Few African airlines look set to meet the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) deadline of early 2008 for 100 e-ticketing, writes Esther Nakkazi. Most African airlines will be left in the slow lane, offering paper tickets, using a parallel system.

"We shall need a parallel system to operate for sometime after the deadline for our air passengers who cannot book online," said the Public Relations Manager, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Ignatius Igundura but he did not give a time frame for how long it would need to be in place.

According to IATA introduction of e-tickets for air travel will result in USD3 billion savings globally each year and for airlines it is estimated that approximately USD9 per ticket in savings could be made when an e-ticket is issued instead of a paper ticket.

The savings will accrue from elimination of printing, postage, shipping, storage and accounting costs on tickets while their will also be elimination of collateral materials (envelopes/ticket jackets) and reduction in counter airport counter space through increased use of self-service check-in.

An e-ticket costs USD1 to process while a paper ticket costs about USD10 per ticket. IATA processes 300 million paper tickets each year and has announced that all IATA airlines will stop printing paper tickets by the end of 2007.

All airlines operating in Uganda are IATA members and most of them have already embraced e-ticketing although it is currently optional for customers. Kenya Airways, East Africa's predominant carrier has already met the IATA standards for e-tickets and has upgraded their information system.

However, analysts say Ugandans might not be able to fully utilize the facility with the very low levels of Internet use and penetration. Records from the market regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) show that by December 2004 there were only 8,000 internet subscribers and the use of Information Communications Technologies (ICTs) is as low as 4.2 percent.

"I'm sure IATA will not snap at us immediately because we do not have the infrastructure to apply ICTs countrywide. Besides the literacy level aspect has to be considered, not everybody will be able to book online", said Ignatius Igundura.

Analysts say air passengers most likely to be affected would be Ugandan traders who are IT ignorant but they would gain from stress free ticketing and the careless passengers who usually lose tickets. The targets that have been set by UCC for ICT penetration might also not be very helpful.

The executive director UCC, Patrick Masambu said UCC will increase penetration of the use of ICT to 20 percent from the current 4.2 percent and internet penetration of households will be 10 percent from the current 1 percent by 2010.