As countries across the globe continue grappling with the Covid-19 pandemic, air travel industry, which has been hit hard, is slowly resuming as select airlines across the world return to the skies.
Countries are gradually reopening their space, allowing commercial airlines, most of which had suspended flights three months ago, to resume operations.
Rwanda announced the opening of its airspace last week, allowing all airlines to kick start operations by August 1 under minimum health safety measures set by the Ministry of Health.
But are airlines ready to fly to Kigali? If so, which airlines will reopen and when will they reopen?
Swapnil Karkhile, the operations manager, Satguru Travels Rwanda office, told The New Times that they are gradually receiving updates from airlines rescheduling their travel plans.
“We have received updates from a couple of airlines but we are waiting for all of them,” he said, highlighting KLM, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and Brussels Airlines.
Here’s how different airlines plan to fly to Kigali;
Ethiopian (August 1)
Africa’s largest carrier, Ethiopian Airlines, is expected to resume flights to and from Kigali on August 1, flying at least daily as it has been the case, according to Satguru officials.
Ethiopian Airlines resumed suspended flights last week on July 8, and it is gradually adding more flights. The carrier has now reached 42 destinations since last week.
The airline says it has intensified cleaning and disinfection of the cabin environment at every aircraft, promising safety and hygiene during the passengers’ travel time.
Brussels (August 2)
Brussels Airlines, the flag carrier and largest airline of Belgium, announced on May 25 that it will finally resume commercial flights to different destinations including Kigali.
The Lufthansa Group carrier grounded its entire fleet on March 24, and halted all commercial passenger operations due to the Coronavirus pandemic.
According to Coline Everard, the Country Manager Rwanda at Brussels Airlines in Rwanda, Brussels will resume flights to Kigali on August 2, initially flying twice a week.
Everard, however, said that the travel plan is subject to changes depending on demand.
Qatar (August 3)
The largest global airline, Qatar Airways, plans to resume flights to Kigali on August 3, flying three times a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), according to Satguru.
The airline was previously operating daily flights to Kigali, but with the impact of the pandemic, Qatar Airways is decreasing flights as the demand for air travel has shrunk.
Like some airlines, Qatar Airways says it is offering greater flexibility, allowing its passengers to change their travel date or destination free of charge, as often as they may need.
“We are balancing the needs of our passengers with the operational challenges we face due to entry restrictions imposed by a number of countries,” the airline, which agreed to buy stake in RwandAir noted.
The chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al-Baker, told Al Jazeera a few weeks ago that social distancing will really not be possible in an aeroplane. “And if, as regulators are trying to impose it on commercial flights, it will be a huge dent on the operating cost of our airline.”
“For example, if I introduce social distancing by keeping one seat empty between passengers, I will only be carrying 50 per cent of the load factor,” he said.
“If I am even more aggressive like some countries may require us to do that, even keep one row empty behind a passenger, I will only carry 30 per cent of the capacity of an aeroplane,” he added.
Al-Baker highlighted that it will then mean that airlines like his will have to put up the ticket price by over 300 per cent to cover the cost of my operations, which is very difficult to achieve.
KLM (August 6)
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is expected to resume flight operations to Kigali on August 6, after the airline had halted intercontinental operations due to the pandemic.
KLM is one of the hardest hit airlines in Europe.
The European Commission on Monday, July 13 said it had approved the €3.4 billion ($3.85 billion) bailout package promised by the Dutch government to the airline last month.
After months of wrangling with France over the role each country should play in a coronavirus rescue deal, the Netherlands said it would support the Dutch arm of Air France-KLM with 2.4 billion euros in bank loans with guarantees, and a 1-billion-euro direct loan.
This will allow the airline to go back to skies, and weather the pandemic storm.
Satguru officials say the schedules are subject to changes, and that will depend on whether airlines have enough passenger load to carry.
“We are not expecting the business to come back to normal anytime soon,” Karkhile noted, insisting that passengers are still widely anxious to travel in the middle of Covid-19.
Even when the airlines resume, priority will be given to customers who have already made bookings.
Satguru Rwanda estimates they had some 1,000 existing bookings for travellers based in Kigali, whose plans were halted by the pandemic.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu