By Jean d’Amour Mugabo
Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame has called for an open African airspace as the Aviation Africa Summit kicks off in Kigali.
Opening the two-day summit on Wednesday, Kagame delivered a message of support for the aviation industry along with a reaffirmed determination to see Africa progress with its open skies actions.
Aviation Africa is the major trade event aerospace and defence industries. The fourth edition but now taking place in Rwanda at the second time is held under the theme “Flying forward together – developing partnerships for Africa’s future skies.”
President Kagame was the chairperson of the African Union (AU) in 2018 when the agreement for the introduction of a Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) was signed.
“Sixteen countries in Africa are landlocked, including Rwanda; that is almost one-third of Africa but every country is air-linked. So, geography should not be seen as an excuse for underdevelopment. This highlights the importance of regional integration where there have been some notable achievements over the past year, chief among these is the Single African Air Transport Market,” he said. “However, the full promise of this pact only becomes apparent in the wider context of the African Continental Free Trade Area, and the Protocol of the Free Movement of Persons which were also signed last year.”
Kagame said it is important to attract more countries to join the Single African Air Transport Market and to fully implement its provisions.
He added that Protectionism is a short-sighted policy which only serves to keep the African market fragmented, inefficient and expensive, thereby reducing opportunities for African firms.
Minister of Infrastructure and Transport for Togo, Mme Zoureatou Tchakondo Kassa-Traore whose president Faure Gnassingbé is the AU’s ‘Champion’ of the initiative, also called on African states who have signed the commitment to implement it without delay.
She said only 28 countries out of 54 on the continent have signed the SAATM.
“There is no doubt about the benefits to our States from the full implementation of SAATM,” said Kassa-Traore. “By integrating our air routes and opening up the African skies with the implementation of SAATM, we are broadening the paths of growth and development of our continent.”
Chairman of International Air Transport Association (IATA) and the CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, said “Africa is a promising land for aviation. The launch of SAATM in January 2018 and the African Continental Free-trade Area in March of 2018 are testaments of Africa’s visionary leadership and long-term thinking in aviation.”
He added: “We need to support the successful implementations of regional initiatives that aim to improve Africa’s position in the areas of igniting integration, trade, human capital, air connectivity, and tourism. I don’t think there is any continent in the world that has bigger tourism potential growth than Africa.”
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the summit, Rwanda’s Minister of State in charge of Transport, Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, said hosting the summit contributes to Rwanda’s vision of becoming an aviation hub on the continent.
“We target to have this summit become an air show which will be taking place in Rwanda in the next few years. We are doing our best by developing the state-of-the art Bugesera International Airport, our national carrier, Rwandair, is developing fast and our aviation safety is developing steadily,” he said. “Africa has huge but untapped potentials because with a population of over 1.2 billion people, only 3% of aviation passengers fly on the continent’s airlines.”
The fourth edition of the Aviation Africa Summit & Exhibition has attracted more than 800 delegates from 71 countries.
The audience includes government ministers, air chiefs of staff and directors general of civil aviation authorities with representatives from 35 African nations, 22 European countries, 12 Asian and three American countries.
The summit’s exhibition has over 100 exhibitors including Host Sponsors Nexus & Wyvern, Platinum Sponsor Gulfstream and Gold Sponsors Bestfly and Airbus.