Rwanda among countries to pilot single air space market

Rwanda has been chosen among 17 countries that are set to participate in an implementation pilot project of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM).

The development, experts say, adds momentum to Africa’s bid for open skies.

SAATM, commonly referred to as the unified air transport market aims at boosting the aviation industry on the continent by allowing free movement of airlines from one country to another.

Rwanda joins a list of 17 nations including Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Maroc and Mozambique.

Others are, Nigeria, Niger, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia.

According to the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the selected countries fulfill “necessary requirements.”

Speaking to The New Times in an exclusive interview, Emmanuel Butera, Consumer Protection Specialist at AFCAC, said Rwanda’s investment in the air transport industry will bear fruit as the national carrier, RwandAir, expands.

Provided there is reduction in the cost of travel with the implementation of SAATM, Butera argues, RwandAir could use the chance for route network expansion.

“This implies that free movement of goods and services across borders of member states hence a wider, harmonized, and more competitive African market,” he added.

Charles Habonimana, Managing Director of Rwanda Airports Company (RAC), said the institution remains committed to providing “freedoms” to African airlines to fly to and through Rwanda’s airspace, as well as welcoming travelers from all over Africa as has always been the case.

Equally important, he noted, taking part in the implementation of SAATM will accelerate commitment to establish Rwanda as an aviation hub on the continent.

“It will play a key role in easing passenger connection by airlines and reducing travel time. This is especially very beneficial for the airlines and will widen air transport competition on the African market which is good for business as it opens up room for more passengers,” Habonimana reiterated.

Speaking during the 23rd anniversary of the Yamoussoukro Discussion, Rwanda’s Ambassador to Senegal, Jean-Pau Kabaranga said, “The air transport industry is a key pillar to our economic development.”

Rwanda is currently building its biggest international airport with a 4200m runway and passenger terminal with a capacity for 4.5 million passengers per year.

The Yamoussoukro Decision is a treaty adopted by most members of the African Union (AU) which establishes a framework for the liberalization of air transport services between African countries, as well as fair competition between airlines. The decision was signed by 44 African states in 1999, and became binding in 2002.

The SAATM project was launched in 2018 as a flagship programme of the African Union Agenda 2063 to completely liberalize air transport markets on the continent.

According to AFCAC, 35 Member States have committed to unconditionally implementing SAATM, while 21 States have signed the Memorandum of Implementation (MoI) for its operationalization and implementation.

The 35 states are estimated to account for over 85 percent of intra-African traffic and over 800 million of Africa’s 1.2 billion population.