Economic Integration Boosted As Uganda Eyes Joining The Single Africa Air Transport Market

Economic Integration Boosted As Uganda Eyes Joining The Single Africa Air Transport Market

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By Spy Uganda 

Uganda has moved positively to join the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) following a stakeholder meeting organized by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) in Kampala earlier this week.

For many years Uganda was doubtful about joining SAATM, but after lengthy deliberation, it may be ready to sign on to the project. To date, 34 out of 54 African nations have come onboard to open up Africa’s skies and promote the value of aviation throughout the continent. The 34 nations represent over 80% of the existing market in Africa.

Advances To Join SAATM

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Following the stakeholder’s meeting, Uganda showed interest in signing on to the project by forming a committee involving players from different sectors. The committee will include the Ministry of Finance, Works and Transports, the Uganda Tourism Board, and private sector stakeholders.

During the meeting, the importance of the Single African Air Transport Market was discussed, citing the benefits an enhanced aviation market would bring to various sectors in the country. Pitching the idea to the nation, UCAA Deputy Director General Olive Birungi Lumonya said;

“Flying is efficient, quicker, and safer but is not utilized much as the other forms of travel. If this agreement is signed by Uganda, we will be joining the rest of Africa in reducing the cost of travel and increasing air traffic and business.”

In East Africa, Uganda and Tanzania are the only major aviation countries that have not signed on to the project. Before the pandemic, Ugandan authorities were focused on various domestic projects, which stopped them from signing onto SAATM.

The East Africans were in the process of reviving Uganda Airlines; hence they were worried about the competition a unified air transport market would bring on the flag carrier. Deputy Director General Lumonya added;

“Initially, Uganda did not sign the Solemn Declaration to join SAATM pending the establishment of mechanisms to give assurance to the revival of Uganda Airlines, which at that time had not commenced operations taking into consideration a highly competitive market resulting from the grant of unrestricted fifth freedom traffic rights to African Airlines.”

They were also developing Entebbe International Airport (EBB) into a major regional hub. With its domestic projects almost complete, and the African aviation market nearing pre-pandemic levels, Uganda may be ready to join SAATM.

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SAATM is a flagship project of the African Union to create a single unified air transport market in Africa. It will fast-track the development of civil aviation on the continent and act as an impetus to Africa’s economic integration agenda.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) fully supports the initiative and suggests that if 12 key African states opened their markets and increased connectivity, an extra 155,00 jobs and $1.3 billion in annual GDP would be created in those countries. Uganda is expected to benefit from up to 5,000 jobs and over 1.2 million in annual revenue.

Uganda has become a key player in African aviation. Its flag carrier has grown, adding 12 destinations in nine countries since 2019. Entebbe International, its main airport, is one of the busiest in the region. Joining its neighbors Kenya and Rwanda in SAATM would be monumental towards developing regional air travel.

World air travel has almost fully recovered from the pandemic. While Africa is leading in the recovery, East Africa has seen the most significant numbers compared to other African regions. This can be leveraged to develop fifth-freedom flights and reduce airfares across the continent.

Despite having about 18% of the world’s population, Africa contributes about 2% of global air travel. This is because many states restrict their air service markets to protect their national carriers, and for that reason, many countries have not signed on to the open skies initiative.

Most states have realized the adverse effects of these restrictions. A major aviation country like Uganda joining SAATM will be a big step towards having more signatories and open skies for Africa. This will reduce the incredibly high airfares and promote intra-Africa connectivity.

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