Expectations are high behind the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM), an initiative aimed at, among others, creating a single unified air transport market in Africa. Once operational, new routes should be easier to launch without the need for reciprocal services, and 17 African countries, including Rwanda, out of a total of 35 country signatories (80 per cent of the existing aviation market in Africa) have now agreed to test the initiative. The 17 airlines will now open their air transport markets to each other as part of a new “SAATM Project Implementation Pilot,” expected to kick off this week. The air transport plan could eventually generate $4.2 billion in additional gross domestic product), 600,000 new jobs, a 27 per cent reduction in fares and make a contribution to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, reports indicate. Rwanda, in particular, says participating in the pilot plan is an opportunity to pave the way for connectivity or access to new markets for national carrier RwandAir like other African Airlines. The New Times’ Sheena Teta Uwase caught up with Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) Director General, Silas Udahemuka, for insights on the development, especially Rwanda’s role in the pilot plan. Excerpts: Rwanda was recently chosen among the countries that will pilot the project. What benefits does this provide for the local aviation industry? More connectivity or access to new markets for RwandAir like other African Airlines; like other Airlines in the SAATM PIP States, the local airline will benefit from the market share as it will have more routes with unrestricted traffic rights and the number of flights or frequencies will increase. Equally important is the local aviation industry’s growth. Due to the general economic growth impacted by new employment and tourism thriving due to more passenger traffic, the local aviation industry will get an equitable share of the overall GDP. More efficient operations – liberalisation will enable local carriers to achieve efficiencies as they do more investments and expertise, and through consolidation and mergers. Local airlines will be more competitive to benefit from new opportunities in the liberalised African air transport market. There will be new employment opportunities in the national Aviation Industry in airports, airlines, air navigation, etc. New jobs created are likely to result in attraction of good aviation expertise. This will generally impact the economy resulting from additional air services facilitating trade, business activity and greater personal productivity. The removal of ownership and control restrictions will provide home carriers with greater access to managerial and technological knowledge and best practice. There will also be increased traveling, it is expected that with more airlines and routes, competition will lead to reduced air fares. The project has for long failed to materialise. Are we finally seeing hope for Africa’s open skies? This is how we see it. Though it is one of the best air transport policies for Africa, liberalisation has had hindrances along the way, but we definitely see a bright future. What are some of the incentives being provided to countries that are set to participate in the pilot phase? The African Union and the Specialised Agency for Aviation (AFCAC) have programmes or initiatives to help African States improve various domains in aviation, be it in infrastructure or personnel development. This is done in partnership with a number of stakeholders on the continent and beyond. Circling around the same question, what are the existing bottlenecks the incentives are likely to address? The existing bottlenecks are the previous protectionism tendencies, but more have begun to think otherwise where Africa’s aviation growth will be more realised if we liberalise our airspace and look at partnerships between ourselves for the general benefit. Specifically for Rwanda, are there some challenges we hope to see addressed owing to the development? It is an opportunity to continue with the already ongoing investments in the local aviation industry, in terms of aviation infrastructure developments. Think of more airlines flying to Kigali International Airport or more routes by RwandAir, which all require expanded airport or air navigation facilities. Finally, when are we likely to see the first activity under the pilot project? On the side-lines of the 2022 ICAO Air Services Negotiation Event (ICAN2022) scheduled from December 5-9, 2022 in Abuja, Nigeria, AFCAC will present the SAATM PIP’s roadmap to African States. Clearly, during the event, the 15 SAATM PIP States will start to align their Bilateral Air Services Agreements (BASAs) with the AFCAC model BASA that has unrestricted provisions in accordance with liberalisation of air transport services in Africa.