While waiting for Qatar Airways, RwandAir increases its number of projects

By Nelly Fualdes
Posted on Wednesday, 30 November 2022 12:14

A Rwandair aircraft at Kigali International Airport. Kigali International Airport, Boeing 737-800 © RWANDAIR

RwandAir has just received its first Boeing 737 dedicated to cargo. Following from that, it believes it can also look into establishing a direct flight to the US.

On 24 November, RwandAir took delivery of a Boeing 737-800 Freighter, its very first aircraft dedicated to cargo. This acquisition demonstrates how central cargo, which was almost non-existent in 2017, has been to the company’s business plan over the past few years.

This boom – which started in 2018 with the transport of 2,300 tonnes of goods, compared to 84 tonnes in 2017 – has continued, even during Covid: RwandAir transported 3,253 tonnes in 2020 and 3,889 tonnes in 2021, mainly to Dubai, Belgium and the UK, according to figures from the Rwanda Development Board.

This development is “all the more important as the country is landlocked”, said Yvonne Makolo, the company’s managing director, in a press release.

The US, a new possibility

This acquisition follows the inauguration of direct flights between Kigali and London Heathrow, which Rwandair had previously served via Brussels, with an increase in frequency.

On 16 November, during a webinar by the African Air Carriers Association (Afraa), Makolo said Luanda, Maputo and Paris will be added to the map of destinations in the coming months.

In addition, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced on 23 November that the Republic of Rwanda has received a “Category 1” safety rating, which attests to its compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. This means, says the administration, that “duly authorised Rwandan air carriers may serve the United States and enter into code-share agreements with US carriers without restriction”.

Closed destinations in DRC

In addition to its new freighter, Rwandair, which has recovered 80% of its pre-Covid business according to its CEO, currently operates a rather disparate fleet of 12 aircraft – two Airbus A300s, six Boeing 737s and four Bombardier (CRJ900 ER and Dash 8-Q400) – serving 28 destinations in East, Central, West and Southern Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

In May, however, the airline was forced to close its three Congolese destinations, Kinshasa, Goma and Lubumbashi, due to rising tensions between DRC and Rwanda.

Although the airline suffered, like many others, during the Covid-19 crisis, it received RWF145.1bn (€139m) in government aid in May 2020.

Complicated negotiations

Rwanda’s national airline is experiencing good momentum, despite waiting three years now for the new shareholder Qatar Airways, to come on board.

On 5 February 2020, the latter officially announced that it intended to buy 49% of RwandAir’s capital, though this has not been followed up for the moment. “We are still in the process of finalising the legal aspects and the capital structure,” said Makolo during the 16 November webinar.

For his part, Hendrik Du Preez, the vice president of Africa at Qatar Airways, told us in July that the dossier is “discussed at the highest level and directly managed by the government’s communication office”.

The Covid crisis, which has hit airline finances hard, is part of the reason why Qatar Airways, despite being owned by a powerful gas monarchy, is hesitating before investing what is probably hundreds of millions of dollars in a carrier that has yet to turn a profit.

Especially since now that the air blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt between 2017 and January 2021 has been lifted, thus making it less vital that it conclude a strategic partnership.

Now that Qatar Airways can once again fly over the territories of these countries, the terms of a potential deal have been tightened.

However, the two airlines emphasise that they are forming closer ties. In December 2021, three months after signing a code-share agreement, Qatar Airways closed its Kigali-Doha route, leaving its partner to operate the route alone.

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