African airlines seem determined to thwart the IATA’s forecast that carriers in the region will record losses this year as they continue to make big operational moves. RwandAir has expanded to its 28th and 29th international destinations, starting with its nearly 15-hour flight to Guangzhou, China. Tel Aviv is on the cards for Tuesday, 25th June. RwandAir will fly tri-weekly on its Airbus A330, to Guangzhou, the airline’s first Chinese destination, through its Mumbai route.
RwandAir chief executive, Yvonne Manzi Makolo said, “The launch of these two major new services to our growing route network demonstrates our continuing commitment to expanding RwandAir to new markets overseas. New flights to Guangzhou and Tel Aviv will strengthen and deepen the growing ties between key destinations and Rwanda’s growing economy.
“We believe the new premium service we offer, on one of Africa’s most modern aircraft fleets, will facilitate an increase in the volume of trade between Africa and Guangzhou, China’s third largest city. The new route will also offer more choice for customers; help pave the way for new business opportunities and increase our cargo traffic.”
The inaugural flight from Kigali International Airport had 234 passengers, the aircraft’s full carrying capacity, with Jean de Dieu Uwihangaye, Rwanda’s State Minister for Transport one of those aboard. Having secured fifth freedom rights from India, RwandAir can stop to pick passengers from Mumbai’s Chatrapti Shivaji International Airport. Uwihanganye told KT Press, “This route is an important milestone to RwandAir but also the Rwandan Aviation industry. It is the first longest route we are doing. It connects better the African regions we serve with China and India. China is one of biggest trading partners of Rwanda and the region. The imports to Rwanda have been growing at 13 % annually and it is now around $400m per year the same as exports almost $6m, growing at 11%.”
Zheng Wenping, a top official at the Chinese embassy in Rwanda told New Times that this new connection will reduce travel from Kigali to Guangzhou, emphasizing the economic advantage. “I think this will be a catalyst for stronger tourism relations between China and Rwanda. We have noted that more and more Chinese are coming to Rwanda and can only expect more to come in the future especially now the new route makes travel easier.”
Business owners across both routes are understandably excited. Benjamin Gasamagera, a Rwandan businessman told New Times, “This is exciting for us because some of the biggest problems we have been facing recently are delays and cancellation of flights. There was no predictability of our travels and this was hurting business. With RwandAir, it will be easier to be certain about when to travel and when to reach the final destination. Even if there are delays and cancellation, it is easier to find out than using a foreign airline.”
In a separate report, Angelique Bitahaninkindi, an olive oil and organic trees importer from Israel was ecstatic. “In fact, I had resolved not to import olive or organic trees,” she said, “because of two main reasons; it was too time-consuming and costly. Normally, from Tel Aviv goods go through more than three countries before they get to either Amsterdam or Brussels from where they can connect to Kigali. And if one opts for sea shipping, it takes more than a month.”
All of that is set to change now. With over 131 million travellers outbound from China in 2017 (Rwanda received 8,000 of those travellers last year) RwandAir will hope to snatch a significant cut of that lot. The return fare from Guangzhou is reportedly $776, and $615 for economy class.
Meanwhile, China has agreed a $42.8 million road expansion deal with Rwanda for 10.3 km road network to ease traffic congestion. State Minister for Economic Planning Claudine Uwera and Chinese envoy to Rwanda Amb. RAO Hongwei were joint signatories for both governments, with Hongwei calling the agreement and RwandAir’s first Guangzhou flight “double happiness.”
By Caleb Ajinomoh