RwandAir eyes India & China routes, via Dubai, from late 2016, with A330s
Alexander Cornwell, Staff Reporter
Dubai: African carrier RwandAir plans to fly to India and China via Dubai from the end of 2016, Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Operations Officer Jean-Paul Nyirubutama said on Sunday.
RwandAir, 99 per cent owned by the Rwandan government, already flies daily to Dubai from the Rwandan capital Kigali.
The airline has the traffic rights to fly onwards from Dubai and is waiting on the delivery of two Airbus A330s, long-haul aircraft, that it will receive at the end of 2016 to start the routes, Nyirubutama told reporters at an aviation conference in Dubai.
He did not say where in China and India the airline will fly to.
John Mirenge, chief executive officer of RwandAir, says the company is looking for more alliances with Chinese carriers. Li Lianxing / China Daily
Rwandan carrier looks to the future with connections to ChinaGrowing business ties and connections between China and Africa are prompting more African carriers to look eastward and consider opening new air routes to China, industry sources say.
John Mirenge, chief executive officer of RwandAir, the Rwandan government-controlled air travel operator, says that though the carrier will strive to attract more passengers to Africa, domestic passengers will continue to be the mainstay of its business. At the same time, identifying travel patterns and habits of passengers are crucial for the long-term success of African carriers, Mirenge says, adding that the planned new routes to China are a logical extension of the demand from African passengers.
"RwandAir operates a daily flight to Dubai now, which is the only route it operates outside the African continent. But African business and trade communities are looking further than Dubai, more to the Far East, especially China," he says. "China is certainly on our radar and we plan to be there in the next three years."
Apart from China, Europe would be another major destination for the Rwandan carrier. The company is expecting its wide-body fleet of aircraft to cater to the rising tourist demand from Europe and also match up to the standards and requirements of European airports.
As far as China is concerned, Mirenge says that the carrier anticipates a steady influx of Chinese tourists and expanding investment between both sides. "The reason that we are so confident of future business prospects is that our research shows that most of the European passengers coming to Africa are not using European carriers, but rather African ones. We believe that Chinese passengers will also follow a similar trend in the future as we have direct connections and are better tailored in terms of sub-regional destinations," he says.
The company already has informal tie-ups with Chinese aviation companies such as China Southern Airlines on the Dubai sector, but is looking for more formal alliances with Chinese carriers to tap into the China-Africa aviation market, he says. In 2010, the Rwandan government re-branded and restructured the small express airline known as Rwanda Express into what is now known as RwandAir. The carrier earlier operated only in the Rwandan sub-region and had been in existence for seven years at that time. According to Mirenge, the company is still relatively small in terms of fleet size, but is witnessing rapid change.
The company has seven Boeing 737 aircraft, five of which are directly owned by it, while the balance are on lease. Mirenge says that the carrier plans to expand the fleet to 12 in the next five years and add more destinations. "If we look at the other regional carriers in Africa such as Ethiopian or Kenya Airways, they were pretty much at a similar size two decades ago," he says. "Our ambition is to develop the company and other infrastructure and related facilities in Rwanda with organic and qualitative growth.
"The Rwandan government feels that the aviation industry, especially commercial aviation, would be the cornerstone for economic development," he says. "As a country that is physically landlocked, Rwanda has to tap into its strategy to link it to the rest of the continent through aviation links. At the same time, it is also looking to position itself as a service hub in the region and for this it is important to have robust and clear connectivity, especially in air transport."
According to the government strategy, the country's strategic location in Africa enables it to have easier connectivity with the rest of the continent. It takes just four to five hours by flight to reach the farthest corner of Africa by air from Rwanda, Mirenge says."In a business sense, this is a manageable period of travel that offers a more efficient and flexible travel experience to customers," he says. "For us it also saves costs as we can cater to passengers with narrow-body aircraft."
Since its restructuring three years ago, the company has made steady improvements in terms of operations and revenue, Mirenge says."We call ourselves a mini hub because we are comparatively smaller than other regional hubs in eastern Africa, especially in terms of airport capacity. We are growing and our aim is to make Rwanda an alternative hub for the region," he says.
"The Kigali International Airport has expanded a lot during the last few years, and passenger flows have risen from 200,000 in 2009 to more than 600,000 in 2013, of which 400,000 were transported by RwandAir."Though 40 percent of the passengers are in the transit category, the total number is growing steadily and expectations are that the airport would account for more than 70 percent of the transit passengers in the region. The Rwandan government is setting up a new international airport in east Kigali called New Bugesera International Airport and has already initiated talks with potential investors, government sources say.
"Chinese companies are also active participants in the discussions. There have been no concrete announcements yet, but expectations are that some deals would be inked soon," Mirenge says.
SOURCE : CHINA DAILY : HERE
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