Rwandan airspace abuzz with activity as airlines flock

AIRLINES Operating commercial and cargo flights to and out of Kigali are set to increase sharply after South African Airways (SAA), Turkish Airlines and Emirates showed interest in adding Kigali on their growing list of destinations.

The airlines join the existing carriers —Rwanda’s flag carrier Rwandair, Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Brussels Airlines, KLM, and Air Uganda. This is set to increase competition mainly on commercial flights where industry analysts predict a reduction in the cost of air transport.

The South African carrier, which has previously operated flights to the Rwandan capital, recently announced it would re-launch commercial flights to Kigali and include Burundian capital Bujumbura on the same route. Kigali city is Rwanda’s economic, political and tourist transit hub while Bujumbura is Burundi’s largest city and is close to the main port, shipping coffee as the country’s primary export.

In a statement seen by The Chronicles, SAA, one of the largest airlines on the African continent, said effective January 17, 2012, it would commence operations from Johannesburg, South Africa’s capital to Kigali and onwards to Bujumbura, Burundi. “These flights are now available for reservations in the Global Distribution System (GDS), through your travel agent, and via flysaa.com, the airline’s online website,” the carrier said in a statement to the press.

The airline said the new Kigali and Bujumbura flights have been conveniently timed to provide global connections via its Johannesburg hub and to SAA’s international network, including Africa, Asia, Europe, South America, North America and Australia.

“SAA is focused on strengthening its intra-Africa network in line with its Africa Expansion programme. Adding even more destinations to our already extensive Africa route network gives our customers more travel options to thriving destinations that were previously difficult to reach by air,” Theunis Potgieter, SAA General Manager Commercial was quoted as saying in the statement.

According to SAA, the Johannesburg-Kigali route and onwards to Bujumbura will be serviced three times a week by the airline’s state-of-the-art Airbus A319 aircraft that accommodates 120 passengers in a two class (business and economy) configuration. The re-launch of SAA flights to and out of Kigali followed a similar announcement by the Turkish Airlines, one of Europe’s largest carriers.

The announcement was made by the Turkish Airlines President and CEO Mr. Temel Kotil during his meeting with the Rwandan President Paul Kagame in Kigali on July 25. Mr. Temel told the President that the airline was hoping to open flights from Turkish Capital Istanbul to Kigali in April next year. It will also open an operations office in Kigali.

The two airlines will join Emirates, the Dubai based airline that opened weekly cargo flights to and out of Kigali about three months ago. It is also believed that it might follow with commercial flights according to sources in the aviation Industry. Emirates is operating one of the biggest cargo planes Boeing 777 that gives it a competitive advantage over other players in the cargo business.

According to Wikipedia, Emirates is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates. Based at Dubai International Airport, it is the largest airline in the Middle East, operating over 2,400 passenger flights per week to 111 cities in 62 countries across six continents. The company also operates three of the world’s ten longest non-stop commercial flights from Dubai to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Houston. Emirates is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, which has over 50,000 employees, and is wholly owned by the government of Dubai directly under the Investment Corporation of Dubai. Cargo activities are undertaken by the Emirates Group’s Emirates SkyCargo division.

Rwanda, however, is also embarking on bilateral air service agreements with many countries, which could see more airlines fly to Kigali. These agreements could also see Rwandair, which is expanding its fleet size launch flights to these countries in its expansion strategy. Some of the countries that have recently signed air service bilateral agreements with Rwanda include India and other five Asian countries which add to over ten countries that signed last year. The country also updated its air service bilateral agreement with Uganda.

The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) Director General Mr. Richard Masozera said in an interview that his office has held talks with several other airlines, which have in turn expressed an interest in flying to Kigali. He declined to mention their names but he said they consider Kigali a growing aviation centre.

Passenger boom
Rwanda is increasingly registering a passengers’ boom. Statistics from the RCAA indicate that in 2009, Rwanda registered about 300,000 passengers and in 2010, they increased by 30,000 while this year, they are expected to increase by more than 70,000. This is attributed to the country’s resolve to attract foreign investments by reforming the business environment as well as offering peace and security to the visitors. Rwanda also has natural tourist attractions such as the mountain gorillas and other wildlife, which increasingly attract foreign visitors. The country also serves as a transit route for passengers to and from Eastern DR Congo and this boosts the number of passengers using the national airports.

Way forward
The Government is in the final stages of selecting a firm to construct the first phase of the New Bugesera International Airport. The new airport is expected to cost between US$400 -600 million. Information from the Rwanda Development Board says that some international companies have already expressed an interest in investing in the new airport but the final decision to select the suitable ones will be made after all bids have been reviewed. The Kigali International Airport is also being renovated to accommodate the increasing passenger traffic.

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