Operationalisation of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) will among other things eliminate challenges of geography which have been a common reason for continent’s underdevelopment, President Paul Kagame has said.
Kagame was speaking at the opening of the ongoing Aviation Africa Summit underway at the Kigali Convention Centre.
Launched in January last year, SAATM is one of the African Union’s flagship initiatives meant to create a single unified air transport market in Africa.
At least 28 African countries have agreed to open up their skies so far.
The Head of State said air transport can be a solution to the challenges of accessibility of countries which has been long cited as a challenge to development.
“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 last year,” he said.
To have the much needed impact on the continent, Kagame said that the Single African Air Transport Market will work alongside further opening up the continent.
“The full promise of this pact only becomes apparent in the wider context of the African Continental Free Trade Area and the Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons, which [a number of countries] also signed last year.”
Initiatives like the common-format African passport, and the push to remove visa requirements for Africans traveling in Africa, are also significant developments,” he added.
He warned that the continued protectionist trends only keep the African aviation market inefficient, fragmented and unprofitable.
“Protectionism among ourselves is a short-sighted policy, which only serves to keep our continental market fragmented, inefficient, and expensive, thereby reducing opportunities for African firms,” The Head of State said.
Among the opportunities that the continent could benefit from by boosting the performance of the aviation industry include growth in demand as well as growth of jobs on the continent.
“Removing barriers on the movement of goods and people means there will be steadily increasing demand for commercial air services in the years ahead,” he said.
He added: “One industry analysis has calculated the requirement for new aircraft in Africa over the coming generation at more than 1,000 planes, with a value exceeding $150 billion.
“That also means there will be many more high-quality jobs for African pilots, engineers, and service personnel to operate and maintain this equipment professionally and above all safely,” Kagame said.
He expressed the readiness of Rwanda to continue investments in aviation infrastructure, including the national carrier, RwandAir and Bugesera International Airport.
Akbar Al Bakar, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, expressed readiness to make investments on the local and region aviation scene saying it habours great potential.
Abdullah Al-Sayed, NEXUS Group Founder and Chairman, echoed Kagame’s remarks saying that it would increase opportunities for all operators
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