Cabinet has approved the signing of several bilateral air service agreements with different countries, a move that would see the national airline access air space of more countries.
Uganda, last year revived its national airline, Uganda Airlines and had to sign a number of bilateral air services agreements to open up flight routes. Currently, Uganda Airlines goes to at least seven countries and nine destinations in Africa including Bujumbura in Burundi, Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, Kigali in Rwanda, Mogadishu in Somalia, Juba in South Sudan, Dar es Salaam, Zanzibar and Arusha in Tanzania. The signing of new agreements means that Uganda Airlines will further expand its reach.
A bilateral air service agreement opens up commercial civil aviation services between those countries. According to a briefing from cabinet, "the agreements will put Uganda at equal legal footing with her partners."
As of last year, Uganda had at least 47 agreements signed but many had not been activated because the country had taken more than two decades without an airline to operate routes in these countries. The agreements will bring down the cost of landing in another country.
A study by InterVistas and UKaid recently concluded that if the East African community liberalized its airspace through these agreements, it would lead to 9% lower average fares and a 41% increase in frequencies to some routes, which in turn stimulate passenger demand.
The African Union has called on countries to push for open skies and lower fares of air transport to boost trade on the continent. Isaac Shinyekwa, a research fellow on integration at Economic Policy Research Centre (EPRC), welcomed Uganda's move to sign more agreements saying flying in around the continent was still very expensive which calls for countries to sign friendly agreements that will cut the cut of air transport.
"We need to facilitate trade. First of all, when we have enough planes up there with sufficient routes, the cost will go down. It is very expensive here compared to Europe. You can for very little money, maybe even quarter the money we move with here [fly around Europe]. Like the route from here [Entebbe] to Nairobi, that route should not be more than $100 but it is [currently] very expensive. There was a time I went to Nairobi in Air Rwanda, it was $460 (about Shs 1.6m) something and then my colleague used Kenya Airways, it was $560 (about Shs 2m). That is quite very expensive. If we can bring that down and even cargo we need to sign these agreements." said Shinyekwa.
Uganda Airlines is expected to receive two bigger Airbus A330-800 planes (261 passenger capacity each) this year for the medium and long-haul routes to add to its fleet of four existing Bombardier CRJ900ER planes (76 passenger capacity each).