RwandAir expands in the face of Economic challenges

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RwandAir continues to add aircraft and expand long-haul routes even though it faces challenges in Africa’s economic climate and in the aviation industry.

The Kigali-based carrier has taken delivery of new Airbus and Boeing aircraft in less than three months and recently received its second Airbus A330-300, for which it was the launch customer in Eastern Africa. It received its first of the type in September.

The A330-300, powered by Rolls Royce Trent 772B engines, offers onboard Wi-Fi, configured in a triple-class layout.

“With a capacity of 274 passengers and 132.20 cubic meters of cargo, we are proudly re-affirming our plans for long-haul operations,” CEO RwandAir John Mirenge said in a statement.

RwandAir has also taken delivery of its third Boeing 737-800—Africa’s first operator of the type with onboard connectivity—on lease from Air Lease Corp. The 737-800 is equipped with inflight connectivity; another 737-800 will join the fleet in May 2017.

“We know aviation is a driver for the economy. Launching long-haul flights is an expensive thing; it is also more complicated. But our base will still be Africa,” Mirenge told ATW recently in Kigali.

RwandAir’s first planned long-haul routes include Mumbai (India) and London Gatwick.

“Africa is still underserved in terms of airline connectivity. But the demand is there and we will continue to develop trunk routes,” he said.

Mirenge expects RwandAir to operate 16 aircraft over the next five years as the company moves forward step-by-step.

RwandAir transports around 700,000 passengers annually, but Mirenge said he believes numbers will rise to more than one million after the two A330s are put into scheduled services.

The biggest challenge for RwandAir is to find enough skilled employees. “We don’t have aviation skills, because Rwanda has no history in aviation,” he said.

High fuel costs and taxes make the airline business even more difficult. “Many governments want to overtax the aviation sector. But another challenge for us is the slowdown of the economy all over Africa. There is no doubt Africa is going through a slowdown, which is affecting our number of passengers and yes, in a way, our growth,” Mirenge said.

Mirenge said all Africa-based carriers are suffering from the economic slowdown, “but we also know this will pass.”

RwandAir operates a fleet of one Airbus A330-200 and -300, five Boeing 737-700/800s, as well as two Bombardier Q400s and two CRJ900s. “This fleet mix is no problem for us, because there is need for all of them,” he said.

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