President Paul Kagame says the sooner the African continent liberalises air transport, the faster the aviation industry can recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry.
The Head of State made the call on Monday at the opening of the 6th Aviation Africa Summit in Kigali, which brought together leaders from African airlines, civil aviation authorities, business aviation and support industries to discuss how to resuscitate the continent’s aviation industry still reeling with post-pandemic effects.
President Kagame said that with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) coming into force, it is time African countries moved fast to implement the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) if the air transport industry is to recover and catch up with the rest of the world.
“The last time we met in Kigali was three years ago. That meeting highlighted the importance of Africa’s aviation market, for our continent’s ambition to become a single economic bloc,”
“Aviation was growing rapidly, and the future was bright. Since then, the Covid-19 pandemic severely affected the aviation industry worldwide, and Africa was no exception. Airlines and airports around the world faced massive layoffs,” President Kagame said.
He however pointed out that now travel and tourism are getting back to normal, but the industry is not yet back to where it was, and a lot more needs to be done to open up the skies.
“The further liberalization of air transport in Africa can act as a catalyst to speed up the industry’s recovery, by increasing connectivity, stimulating demand, and creating jobs,”
“In the wider context of the African Continental Free Trade Area, open skies help to link our businesses to regional and global supply chains, boosting trade and investment,” President Kagame said.
“This is why the full implementation of the Single African Air Transport Market must remain a top priority,” he added.
Citing the progress Rwanda has made in strengthening RwandAir, President Kagame said the national carrier currently serves 24 routes, 19 of which are in Africa, and it is now looking to expand more within the continent and abroad.
“We are working together with our partner, Qatar Airways, to grow RwandAir, and build Kigali’s new international airport, currently under construction, into a regional hub for passengers and cargo,”
“To accelerate the growth of our aviation industry, we must also address the shortage of skills across the aviation value chain. After all, aviation is a hugely attractive career for young people in Africa,” President Kagame said.
He pointed out that the meeting in Kigali which brings together public and private sector players, is the right platform to drive the employment and skills conversation and the need to prioritize the use of data and digital technologies, to make African aviation safer, more reliable, and more affordable.
“The aviation industry has a role to play, in reaching our global climate adaptation goals, and the use of sustainable fuels can help us get there, faster,” President Kagame said at the summit which is taking place together with the first-ever World Airports Infrastructure, Equipment, and Services Exhibition.
Alan Peaford MBE, the Chairman Aviation Africa commended Rwanda for its recognition of the importance the aviation industry can play in the economic development of the country.
Peaford said Rwanda has continued to show the leadership to welcome industry players in Kigali and today more people are warming up to the idea of coming to chart the way forward for the aviation industry on the continent.
“We are witnessing the growth in numbers and in commitment to the event, clearly establishing Aviation Africa as the premier aviation event on the continent,” he said.
He added that it would not have been possible without the incredible support, commitment and guidance of the Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority, the Rwanda Airports Company and the national carrier RwandAir.
The Minister of Infrastructure, Dr. Ernest Nsabimana said that one of the topics to be discussed during the summit is finding a strategy to integrate innovative technology and the innovation ecosystem.
“The Aviation Africa Summit is an opportunity to begin the work of making the aviation industry on our continent more sustainable and resilient against future shocks,” Dr. Nsabimana said.
Africa’s new dawn
The Group CEO of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker stressed that for Africa to fully achieve its full aviation potential, there would be a need for the decisive shift in aviation dynamics.
In line with this year’s summit theme which is ‘Africa’s new dawn; Aviation’s resilience, recovery and growth in a post-Covid era’, the Qatar Airways CEO said the continent needs to work fast towards recovery by being strategic in their operations.
He cited an example of Qatar Airways, which continued to operate even during the Covid-19 pandemic, to help people move wherever they were stuck and airlifting important logistics in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
“As we all know, over the two years, the Covid-19 pandemic created an unprecedented disruption to aviation never ever happened in our aviation history,”
“During this period, Qatar Airways that never stopped flying and strived to sustain air transport services in order to provide humanitarian repatriation, charters alongside heavily reduced schedule services,”
“Where the entire aviation industry came to a halt, we helped the beacon of aviation and persevered to be the most profitable airline during the Covid period,” Al Baker said.
Before Covid-19, Qatar Airways operated 180 flights weekly on the African continent and today they are on the right track, operating at least- 135 flights weekly while new routes on the continent have been opened, including sever in Egypt, Zimbabwe, and more.
In addition to that he said the airline worked closely with governments and the maritime industry to operate hundreds of chartered and schedule flights to major global pods to help bring home over 230,000 seafarers and offshore workers.
He said Qatar Airways also supported the transportation of UN personnel and provided necessary humanitarian services while remaining committed to ensuring the highest standards of safety and hygiene on board the aircrafts.
Back to business
Al Baker said that the airline is now emerging from the crisis, with an international air travel returning to the skies, including African States reopening their borders.