KAMPALA, Uganda (eTN) – After the now locally incorporated low-cost carrier Fly 540 has received an air services license a few weeks ago, it is now processing requirements for the Air Operators Certificate (AOC), which is a prerequisite by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority to commence flight operations and obtain the status of a designated airline. The latter is a prerequisite to be assigned domestic, regional and international routes from Entebbe.

This requirement has come under increased scrutiny, however, as it is in direct violation of the spirit of the Yamoussoukro agreement, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) aviation rules and, most importantly, the spirit of the East African community. It is often said, justly or unjustly, that the five separate aviation authorities are loath to give up any level of oversight and delegate responsibilities to their equally competent partner authorities, which already have licensed the same airlines and subjected them to the same scrutiny and process to get certified. The five aviation regulators, too, have done little to dispel rumors, when they could openly address the issues and seek the support of the private sector to help in faster and deeper integration towards a single authority once again.

These anomalies have angered the aviation fraternity to no small extent, as it prevents any airline already operating in one of the five member states to operate domestically (cabotage rights) in the other four member states of the EAC. This makes flying more expensive, with a large portion of the overall ticket cost already resulting from regulatory charges and fees in any case, and limits consumer-friendly competition across the region. It is also thought to be designed to protect other locally-incorporated and licensed airlines using older aircraft from being exposed to market mechanisms at the expense of the consumer who has to pay for it with every ticket one purchases.

It is predicted that eventually this anomaly will need to be corrected by a head of state resolution and directive, so that the bureaucrats can fall into line with the spirit of the agreements now in place, rather than hiding behind a rigid outdated regulatory regime.

That said, Fly 540 Uganda is expected to commence operations with their own Ugandan-registered fleet of up to three ATR turboprop aircraft within about three months, after they have gone through the (duplicated) AOC process and having to re-register their aircraft on the Ugandan registry, the extra cost of which will be shouldered ultimately by the passengers via airfares.

Meanwhile, Fly 540 Kenya already operates two daily frequencies between Nairobi and Entebbe, which could be expanded to three or more, following the demand in flights between the two countries. Once the airline begins to operate from Entebbe, other regional destinations in Tanzania, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Southern Sudan will then also be within reach, offering travelers better fares and greater choices.