Chief Executive Officers of various Airlines in a group photo with Vice President Jessica Alupo (Centre) and Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transport, Katumba Wamala
Uganda’s Vice-President, Jessica Alupo has urged African Airlines to build trust amongst themselves and ease travel restrictions so as to to enhance the services of air transport in the continent.
Alupo said Air Transport is indeed the business of freedom because air transport shrinks both time and distance, facilitates the movement of goods, people and investment. She made the remarks as she officially opened the the 55th African Airlines Association (AFRAA) Annual General Assembly hosted by Uganda through Uganda Airlines at Speke Resort Munyonyo. The theme for this year’s AGA is ” Strides to Transform Aviation for Development.” The event has attracted 569 delegates from 49 countries.
Alupo said through easing travel, air transport also promotes economic and social integration, “by facilitating those connections that bring us closer as human beings.
“It is therefore a critical enabler, which Africa cannot do without because her rail and road infrastructure lack due coverage for interstate movement,” she said.
She added that as Africa pursues the goal of continental integration, it will be important to focus on growing Air transport for ease of intra-Africa connectivity.
“But all this cannot happen without building trust. And trust is a product of a spirit of equity, give and take and a commitment to common rules and values,” she said.
The VP further said Uganda Airlines was revived to improve air transport connectivity to and from Uganda to enhance the country’s competitiveness for faster economic transformation.
“Air connectivity has become central to our development agenda, and the national carrier is seen as an extension of national infrastructure,” she said, adding: “We are committed to investing in the flag carrier and to facilitate her expansion within Africa, while also providing those vita air bridges between the continent and the rest of the world. For that reason, we are proactive in driving Africa’s integration agenda and committed to removing any obstacles that might obstruct this goal in way.”
Uganda Committed to SAATM Initiative
Speaking at the same event, Gen. Edward Katumba Wamala, Uganda’s Minister of Works and Transport, said the aviation industry has registered a steady recovery from the Covid-19 downturn.
“In Uganda, as of September 2023, traffic through Entebbe was trending at 14% over the comparable period for 2019. Operators are returning to their pre-covid schedules, and we have even seen some new entrants into the market,” he said, adding that Uganda Airlines, the country’s flag carrier is expanding its network and now flies to 13 destinations.
“All this activity points to a dynamic market and as a country, we are committed to playing our role in the development and growth of African aviation,” he said.
Katumba said Uganda welcomes the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) and reaffirms its s commitment to join the initiative.
“Uganda has always pursued a pragmatic aviation policy that seeks to balance the needs of the travelling public while maintaining sanity and safety in the industry. I can state, without any fear of contradiction, that Even under the Yamoussoukro Decision regime, Uganda has been one of the most open aviation markets on the continent. So, in principle, we have always supported the idea of a liberal African air transport market,” Katumba said.
He added: “We, however, wish to note that SAATM is not an event but a process. To this end, we have commenced the process to align our legal regime with SAATM principles. In due course, we shall be announcing our commencement date.
Allow me to restate that SAATM is not a magic wand and needs supportive action in other areas before its full benefits can be realised. For instance, we cannot hope to make headway without opening our borders so that citizens can travel unimpeded.Without opening borders, we are putting the proverbial cart before the horse, and the benefits will indeed be limited. I, therefore, congratulate those countries that have fully opened their borders to Africans.”
Jennifer Bamuturaki, the Chief Executive Officer at Uganda Airlines and the sitting President of AFRAA, said new sustainability requirements pose specific challenges for African airlines.
“This complicates an already difficult operating environment, driving up the cost of fuel and imposing costly closures of airspace,” she said, adding that blocked funds remain a concern in some markets on the continent, and taxation on the industry makes intra-African travel expensive.
“I am pleased to report that these challenges have united us even more and deepened the conversations on how we can work jointly to mitigate them. Despite the challenges, the industry in Africa has shown remarkable resilience and continued with its recovery from Covid-19 disruptions,” she said, adding: “In its latest numbers, IATA reports that traffic in September 2023, was 28.1 percent above the same period in 2022. This is true and we see these numbers in our operations.”
On a disappointing note, she said, there has been no significant improvement to Africa’s share of the global passenger market which stagnated at 2.1 percent.
“This is the result of many factors, among them the status of the African economy, visa restrictions and closed markets within the continent.
It can be argued that the fastest way to improve this metric is to speed up market liberalisation to increase intra-African travel and justify the investment that operators need to make in additional capacity, infrastructure upgrades and regulatory revisions,” she said.
On a positive note, she said, initiatives to open up the continent’s aviation and improve connectivity are gaining traction.
“At least two-thirds of African states have signed up to SAATM and are at different stages of implementation. Here in Uganda, internal conversations about joining SAATM have started,” she said.
She added that as a young airline, they have been passionate advocates for small airlines.
“We cannot hope to achieve sustainable operations if we cannot see areas of synergy between established carriers and small start-ups.
Small airlines are important because they contribute to the systems resilience by adding flexibility to the ecosystem. They fill critical gaps and, offering last mile operations that would be impractical for the industry majors,” she said, adding: “We therefore need to look at them in more positive terms and nurture them to grow. This is important for safety and growth of the industry because they recruit new passengers.”
In his opening remarks, Abderahmane Berthé, the AFRAA Secretary General, said the airlines industry has almost recovered from the COVID-
“we remain committed and determined to overcome the challenges facing our industry,” he said, adding: “As an aviation community, we must keep the ongoing joint efforts to support the resumption and foster a resilient Air Transport system in Africa.”
He said this year’s theme provides an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration to develop a resilient and sustainable perspective for the airline industry.