International air transport is regulated by an intricate web of Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) that stipulate the ways air carriers can supply their services between countries. The regulatory bilateral framework governing international air transport was established after World War II with the goal of the conclusion, implementation or continuance of some kind of intergovernmental agreement concerning air services between the territories of two countries. The building blocks of this framework were and currently are BASAs negotiated between two countries. BASAs are a very important facet of a broader aviation regime and reflect every aspect of the aviation policies of each member in a country-pair. These bilaterals generally have in common numerous types of essential provisions, most of which are similar but not identical. Commonly found provisions are, inter alia, grant of rights article, capacity article, tariffs and statistics article.

Since its establishment, the bilateral regulation of international air transport has evolved from highly regulated to more liberal through the incremental removal of regulatory restrictions and new liberal trading agreements. Extensive deregulation, through air transport policy changes, has been seen in the United States and the European Union, which led to the establishment of the European Common Aviation Area, as well as the EU-US ‘Open Skies’. This was followed by multilateral intra-regional liberalisation in other regions, such as South America, the Caribbean Community, the South-East Asian region, the Trans-Tasman market, the Middle East and Africa. The result of this liberalisation has been seen in the increase in air passenger traffic flows in various regions of the world.

At the time the changes were taking places in the 1970s and 1980s in the United States and Europe, African air services remained governed by highly restrictive BASAs, creating a heterogeneous, inefficient, costly and fragmented market. The first step taken towards easing the restrictions in the intra-African market was through the Mbabane Declaration of 1984, which called for the creation of a technical committee that would develop “a common African approach for the exchange of third and fourth freedom rights” and “encourage the exchange of fifth freedom rights”. It further proposed an additional set of measures that focused primarily on closer co-operation between African carriers. These measures later became the core of the 1988 Yamoussoukro Declaration, which included comprehensive proposals for a general framework of air transport reform in Africa, the unification of the fragmented air transport market and commitment from the governments represented to make all necessary efforts to integrate their airlines within eight years. Despite its too ambitious objectives and the weak likelihood of its implementation, the Declaration stimulated further initiatives aimed at liberalising the African air transport market. After the deadline of the Declaration in 1996 no significant progress was accomplished and the air transport policy in Africa was inadequate. While many air transport markets between Africa and outside of Africa have been liberalised to a significant extent, most intra-African air transport markets remained heterogeneous, fragmented and largely closed due to restrictive BASAs. Recognising that these restrictive BASAs were limiting growth and air connectivity in the region, African States adopted the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD) in 1999 with the aim of promoting the liberalisation of access to air transport markets within Africa.