Milestones and challenges that dominated Rwanda's aviation industry in 2014

Experts say 2014 could go down as the year during which a strong foundation was laid for the country’s aviation industry.
State minister in charge of Transport Dr.Alexis Nzahabwanimana (centre) and RwandAir CEO John Mirenge (left) after receiving a certificate from International Air Transport Association vice-president for Africa Raphael Kuuchi (right) recently. (Timothy Kisambira )
State minister in charge of Transport Dr.Alexis Nzahabwanimana (centre) and RwandAir CEO John Mirenge (left) after receiving a certificate from International Air Transport Association vice-president for Africa Raphael Kuuchi (right) recently. (Timothy Kisambira )

Experts say 2014 could go down as the year during which a strong foundation was laid for the country’s aviation industry. They point at the $17 million expansion works of Kigali International Airport, the planned new airport at Bugesera and upgrading of Kamembe airport among others.

Indeed, many Rwandans returning from abroad for end of year festive season could have been surprised by the look of the airport; now glittering with new terminal gates and lounge.

Will these initiatives therefore bring returns in 2015 and beyond? Peterson Tumwebaze looks at the big projects in the country’s aviation industry that are likely to shape the future:

$1billion support for Bugesera airport

Perhaps the biggest news in Rwanda’s aviation in 2014 came with government announcement that it will issue a $1 billion Eurobond early this year to fund the construction of an international airport at Bugesera.

The news was well received by both local and international investors positioning themselves to do business with the multi-million dollar project. It is projected that once operational; Bugesera airport will boost aviation business and the country’s tourism and service sectors.

It is therefore obvious that this is one of the top projects investors and analysts will be closely watching going into 2015.

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RwandaAir spread its wings to Doula in Cameron, Juba in South Sudan and Mwanza in Tanzania last year

Kigali International Airport ranked top 

Though it caught many by surprise, it did not take long for experts to rank Kigali International Airport as one of the best airports in Africa; a reflection of heavy investments in the country’s aviation business.

The airport was ranked number seven in Africa and the best Airport in East Africa by Skytrax, a UK-based consultancy firm.

According to experts this rank could be a game changer in luring investors to invest in the industry going into 2015.

Passenger arrivals hit a record high of 600,000 in 2014 from around 263,264 in 2008. There is therefore optimism that with airport upgrades at Kigali and Kanombe, the number of passengers could reach a million per year by the end 2015.

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Fly dubai became the latest entrant into the aviation industry in 2014. (Net)

New entrants

The year 2014, saw more airlines spread their wings to Rwanda. They include Fly Dubai, a Middle East-based carrier that became the 11th international commercial airline to operate in Kigali.

Others that equally strengthened their footprint in Rwanda include; RwandAir the national carrier, Kenya Airways, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, Ethiopia Airlines and KLM.

New routes for RwandaAir

Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea signed a general cooperation agreement on air transport, trade and investment tourism development and security, potentially opening new opportunities for the national carrier.

The agreement grants RwandAir an opportunity to extend operations into Equatorial Guinea going into 2015. In fact, when asked about the deal, John Mirenge, the airline’s CEO, said the national carrier was looking to ride on the back of this agreement to expand its operations into the central African region.

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A plane lands at Kamembe Airport. The airport is being rehabilitated to boost tourism and local air transport. (File)

Kamembe upgraded

As part of government’s efforts to boost aviation business, Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority earmarked Rwf5.1 billion to rehabilitate Kamembe Airport, in Western Province.

The rehabilitation is expected to boost the country’s tourism industry and inland air transport services.

Harmonized airspace control

Rwanda was in 2014 nominated to coordinate the Common Market for Eastern and Southern African’s (COMESA) air space harmonization project.

The project has already secured $10 million (about Rwf8billion) from African Development Bank and is expected to boost aviation business in the region among the COMESA member states, through airspace integration.

At the same time, Rwanda signed a bilateral air space agreement with Kenya to allow both RwandAir and Kenya Airways a fifth freedom along Entebbe- Nairobi and Entebbe Kigali route.

As directed by the heads of state of Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, it is anticipated that the cost of air transport in the region could reduce this year.

This, according to Monique Mukaruliza, Rwanda’s coordinator of the Northern Corridor Integration Projects, will be achieved through full liberalization of airspace.

RwandAir in new routes

For the national carrier, 2014 was perhaps the busiest year of all times that saw it spread its wings to Doula in Cameron, Juba in South Sudan and Mwanza in Tanzania.

However, no big news was better than receiving a certificate of safety worthiness after passing the IATA operational safety audit (IOSA).

It is now clear that Africa’s youngest Airline is destined for bigger code shares and profitable business going into 2015. The airline has eyes fixed on expanding to Lusaka, Ivory Coast, India and China.

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Kigali International Airport was given a facelift at a cost of about $17 million. (John Mbanda)

The year was also marked by code share agreements between RwandAir and other airlines including, Air Uganda, though the later was grounded allowing the national carrier full authority on Entebbe-Juba route.

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