Aviation Africa returns to the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in February, as African regulators continue to grapple with air transport liberalization across the continent by adopting the newly devised Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM) initiative to open skies. Speakers representing airlines, MRO, governments, and aviation finance are expected to attend the two-day event, which will highlight the need for the world’s largest continent to continue to open its aviation market in the face of international competition.
“We are particularly thrilled that as well as [Qatar Airways CEO and IATA chairman] Akbar Al Baker, we also have Adriana Marais, who is part of the Mars 1 project, and will be Africa’s first extra-terrestrial when she takes her one-way trip to Mars,” said Alan Peaford, chairman of Aviation Africa and editor-in-chief of Times Aerospace publications. The South African scientist hopes to participate in a voyage to the Red Planet, which will allow her no possibility of ever returning to Earth.
A keynote interview with Peaford will see Al Baker address “Africa’s position in the global aerospace market, how Qatar’s strategy has worked and why Africa is important as part of that strategy.”
Rwandan president Paul Kagame, whose one-year tenure as chairman of the African Union ended in mid-January in favor of Egypt’s president Abdelfattah El-Sisi, is to give the event’s opening address on February 27. At a ceremony in Kigali in January 2018, the AU unveiled the SAATM, a project designed to spur the continent’s economic integration through full implementation of a 1999 treaty, the Yamoussoukro Decision (YD), which grants fifth-freedom rights to all signatory countries.
Faure Gnassingbé, president of the Togolese Republic and chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, will also address the opening session to stress the importance of SAATM. Although 44 of Africa’s 54 nations are YD signatories, only 15 had fully implemented it by 2017, while SAATM saw 21 countries sign its own "solemn commitment." Some, often smaller, African states are wary of greater integration, as likely to favor the bigger countries and airlines, instead of creating a level playing field.
“Many African airlines are members of the African Airlines Association (AfRAA), an association responsible for protecting the general interest of its members,” said a recent African Union report. “The establishment of the Single African Air Transport Market is strongly supported by members of AFRAA who account for 85 percent of the total international traffic carried by African airlines.” Organizers said the response from previous delegates and exhibitors had been strong, with many repeat attendees for both the exhibition and the conference, and claimed the event is growing year-on-year.
Aviation Africa launched in 2015 in Dubai, then came to in Rwanda in 2017, and took place last April in Cairo, Egypt. Organizers told AIN that the conference is to take place in Rwanda every second year, as they believe that visas-on-arrival offered to all sub-Saharan African visitors can add impetus to the conference’s goal of bringing all Africans together to plan the future of the regional aviation industry.
“Many have commented on the excellent networking opportunities with real decision-makers and of the high-level open debates in the conference sessions,” said Peaford. “We made the decision to anchor the event in Rwanda every two years—and then in alternate years, we would move around the continent. Rwanda is a superb venue. Apart from being one of the great sights of Africa to visit, with beautiful scenery and friendly people, it is also a country with huge ambitions for its aviation sector.
“With visa-on-arrival for nearly all nationals, and a safe environment, it has become one of Africa’s foremost conference and exhibition hubs, and with [a] high standard of hotels and no corruption, it is a perfect place for the aviation community to come together.”
An African Union Passport was launched by the Union in 2016 and should be ready for worldwide use by 2020. The continent-wide common identity document replaces existing individual-country papers, and removes the requirement for visas for the individuals of all 55 member states.
Exhibitors, including the major Western aircraft manufacturers as well as competitors from Russia and China, have the opportunity to bring aircraft for private demonstration flights from Kigali International Airport, a short distance from the International Convention Centre where the event is being held. Work on the new Bugesera International, outside Kigali, to accommodate increased traffic, began in 2017.
More than a dozen air chiefs, with particular interests in VIP aviation and airspace issues, are also expected to attend, along with mopre than 100 exhibiting companies. Times Aerospace is the show organizer, in conjunction with the Rwandan government and its Civil Aviation Authority. Aviation Africa takes place at the Radisson Blu Hotel and Convention Centre, Kigali, Rwanda February 27-28, 2019.