From the Covid-19 pandemic to the recovery strategies, it has been another bumpy year for the global aviation industry. For many countries, Rwanda inclusive, the busy holiday season was beset by flight delays and cancellations, largely attributed to the resurrecting-air traffic. Still, as the country ushers in a new year, there was cause for celebration in the local aviation industry for the past year which could be capitalized on to return to profitability in 2023. Already, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) says that airlines managed to cut their losses in 2022 and are now predicted to return to profitability. IATA expected global airline losses to amount to $6.9 billion this year, a significant improvement over the last two years where the industry realized losses of $137.7 and $42.0 billion, respectively. Going forward, according to the outlook, IATA sees return to profitability, albeit a much lower level compared to pre-pandemic times. Profits are expected to reach $4.7 billion in 2023 compared to $26.4 billion in 2019. From regaining-own-airspace to winning big at global airline awards, here is a look at the 10 major highlights that happened at the local scene. Kigali hosts Aviation Africa summit In September 2022, several government officials, aviation leaders, regulators, policy makers and exhibitors gathered in Kigali for the Aviation Africa Summit. Also hosted at in the capital was the premier World Airports Infrastructure, Equipment and Services Exhibition (SMIESA). The two days event, presided over by President Paul Kagame mainly looked at ways of driving revival of aviation post Covid-19, with key topics around maintenance, sustainability, future technology and safety. On the sidelines of the summit, the concept and outlay of Bugesera International Airport was presented and updates provided on the construction works. Aero-experts, at the time, said it is the first time an airport concept and construction progress is put to exhibition before it is complete. Rwanda regains airspace after 5 decades Nearly after five decades in the hands of the government of Tanzania, Rwanda regained her upper airspace, assuming full control of the space. The development followed a handover deed by both governments after Rwanda notified of her intention to withdraw and directly discharge her responsibility of providing air traffic services in her upper airspace. To be able to regain her airspace, Rwanda fronted different reasons including improving safety in Kigali Flight Information Region (FIR) as well as meeting regulatory requirements such as Search and Rescue (SAR) obligations. And following several coordination meetings led by The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), Rwanda was permitted to continue with the process to take over the airspace. RCAA gets first US Aviation Assessment The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) received an International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Category one rating, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The FAA - IASA program focuses on a country’s ability to adhere to international aviation safety standards and recommended practices, according to a communique issued by the agency. “The FAA determined the Republic of Rwanda met requirements for the Category 1 status following a thorough review of its progress in improving its safety oversight processes,” read a related media notice shared earlier. “Under a Category 1 rating, properly authorized Rwandan air carriers are permitted to serve the United States and enter into code-share agreements with U.S. carriers without limitation. Winning big at global aviation awards At the 2022 World Airline Awards, RwandAir, the national carrier, was voted the Best Airline Staff in Africa for the second time in a row. The airline also scooped ‘Best Cabin Crew in Africa’ and ‘Best Airline Cabin Cleanliness in Africa,’ to complete a trio of accolades at the event hosted physically in London, United Kingdom for the first time since 2019. RwandAir was ranked first out of 10 other African airlines all contending for the top spot. Widely referred to as ‘Oscars of the aviation industry,’ the World Airline Awards began in 1999 when Skytrax launched its first global, annual airline customer satisfaction survey. This makes the national carrier one of Africa’s most ambitious airlines with a reputation for delivering a premium service to all its customers, according to airline management. RwandAir boss is chair-elect of IATA National Carrier, RwandAir Chief Executive, Yvonne Makolo, is set to become IATA’s new Board of Governors, after being named chair-elect at the agency’s 78 Annual General Meeting in Doha, in June last year. Once in office, Makolo will also have become the first female ever appointed to the IATA board of governors. In the position, she will take over from Pegasus Airlines Vice-Chairperson of the Board Mehmet Tevfik Nane. RwandAir welcomes first cargo plane Another cause for celebration was the acquisition of the first cargo plane by national carrier, RwandAir, in November 2022. “Today, we took delivery of our first dedicated cargo aircraft, B737-800SF as we expand our fleet, read a tweet by the airline upon the arrival of the aircraft. The airline has a capacity of 23 tonnes. With up to 20 percent lower fuel use and CO2 emissions per tonne, B737-800BCF operators are carrying more payload with less fuel. The aircraft features a large cargo door, a cargo handling system and seating for up to four non-flying staff or passengers. Players in the export trade sector who spoke to The New Times expressed optimism about the upcoming cargo flights, but also raised concerns for a sustainable solution on the costly rates as well as capacity. Rwanda’s main export and import market are Europe and the UAE. The exporters say there is hope that the freighter increases their export volumes and reduces shipping costs. But RwandAir responded to the concerns citing that the issues had been noted previously, and also pledged a strategic solution in the pipeline. Rwanda among countries to pilot unified air space market After decades of futile efforts to open African skies, the year 2022 proved to be a different norm, after 17 countries including Rwanda were chosen to participate in an implementation pilot project of the Single African Air Transport Market (SAATM). The unified air transport market aims at boosting the aviation industry on the continent by allowing free movement of airlines from one country to another. Rwanda joins a list of 17 nations including Cape Verde, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Maroc and Mozambique. Others are Nigeria, Niger, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, and Zambia. According to the African Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), the selected countries fulfill “necessary requirements.” Once operational, new routes should be easier to launch without the need for reciprocal services, and 17 African countries, out of a total of 35 country signatories (80 percent of the existing aviation market in Africa) have now agreed to test the initiative. Officials noted that participating in the pilot plan is an opportunity to pave the way for connectivity or access to new markets for RwandAir. The national carrier, as noted, will benefit from the market share as it will have more routes with unrestricted traffic rights and the number of flights or frequencies will increase. Expanded network, several routes in pipeline One of the key direct flights launched by RwandAir in 2022 was the direct flight to Heathrow Airport, London, in a move that the airline said intended to cater for the airline’s growing demand. The inaugural flight put an end to a five-year long indirect service, where passengers traveling to London previously went through Brussels. The new four times weekly service will be operated by A330 Aircraft, configured with two cabins (economy and business). According to the airline, this is an increase from the airline’s three times a week service. Flights are expected to depart Kigali every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 23:35pm, arriving in London at 06:20am the following morning. The return flight departs the British capital at 20:30pm every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, arriving at the Kigali International Airport at 07:00 the following morning. The New Times understands that negotiations to have a direct flight to Paris have reached advanced stages, among other key destinations. The past year also saw several bilateral air service agreements signed, allowing for RwandAir to initiate services in the respective regions. RwandAir has previously laid out plans to improve connections for those traveling from ‘further afield’. RwandAir currently serves 28 destinations across East, Central, West, and Southern Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. Joining global alliance of commercial airlines RwandAir is set to join The Oneworld Alliance, a major network bringing together different commercial airlines around the world. According to officials, the move will significantly strengthen the carrier’s performance both on the African continent and beyond. Established in February 1999, the alliance, which as of 2020 operating a fleet of 3,296 aircraft and serving about 1,000 airports in 170 countries worldwide, is one of the biggest networks in the world. It means that a member airline of the alliance is able to access all these destinations on a single itinerary. Oneworld member airlines work together to deliver consistently a superior, seamless travel experience, with special privileges and rewards for frequent flyers, including earning and redeeming miles and points across the entire alliance network.