At exactly 11:36am, yesterday, the first Airbus A330-200 jetliner in East African region touched down at Kigali International Airport to a stream of water jet parade and jubilation from airport staff and government officials.
The jet, nicknamed Ubumwe (unity), is the pride of RwandAir, a dream that has been realised, a dream that opens forth more, bigger dreams, leaving the sky as the limit.
No doubt the arrival of Ubumwe heralded a new dawn for the national carrier.
The aircraft was given a hero’s welcome with many citizens calling it a “dream come true.”
“This reminds me of what President Kagame said about dreaming and thinking big if one is to move forward,” one Hakizimana said as he stepped out of the aircraft.
On board the brand new Ubumwe were more than 50 passengers, both local and international.
The plane flew from the manufacturer's plant in Toulouse, France, through Geneva in Switzerland before heading to detour at Entebbe International Airport, Uganda, and finally arriving to an upbeat Kigali crowd.
After a guided tour of the aircraft, James Musoni, the minister for infrastructure, called it a “wise decision to have invested into the airline,” saying it will help boost the country’s economy.
Minister Musoni was accompanied by other government officials, members of the diplomatic corps and business leaders.
“The new aircraft is a manifestation of the good and visionary leadership of President Paul Kagame and RwandAir’s commitment to continue growing,” Musoni said, adding that Government will continue supporting the national carrier because of the economies of scale that comes with a strong aviation industry.
“We are currently working hard to put in place a modern infrastructure that will further enable RwandAir and other operators to expand business, thus better contributing to the national development. It is obvious that the new aircraft will greatly increase connectivity and boost the country’s tourism industry,” he said.
And with the planned construction of Bugesera International Airport, RwandAir will have no problems with infrastructure, he added.
John Mirenge, RwandAir chief executive, said the airline will continue to leverage on government support to expand its wings around the world.
“As we introduce wide body aircraft for the first time into our fleet, with its proven economics, reliability and passenger comfort, the A330 will perfectly support our plans to expand into Europe and Asia, to enhance our regional presence, to open up new routes and to grow our market share,” Mirenge said.
“We are also delighted to have these aircraft powered by Rolls-Royce, as the Trent 700 engine delivers the most efficient and reliable power, and will maximise the revenue earning potential of our new aircraft.’’
About Airbus A330s
To date the A330 Family, which spans 250 to 300 seats, has attracted more than 1,500 orders and around 1,200 A330s are flying worldwide with over 100 operators.
Ever since the original A330- 200- 300 entered service, its hallmarks are its very efficient operating economics, innovative cabin features, while offering passengers much wider economy-class seats than any competing aircraft.
Moreover, with numerous product improvements and with an operational reliability of 99.4 per cent, the A330 is seen as the most cost-efficient and capable aircraft in its class.
Buckley believes RwandAir’s new brand reaffirms the confidence between the airline and the manufacturer, which the two can now leverage to grow and thrive in aviation business.
RwandAir currently operates a fleet of nine aircraft and is expecting to add four other new planes, including the A330-300.
The airline will soon add Harare in Zimbabwe; Mumbai, India; and Guangzhou in China on its list of destinations before expanding to Western Europe.
The A330 type of aircraft has an operational reliability of 99.4 per cent and boasts efficiency for all market segments, thus making it a perfect match for RwandAir, Corrin Higgs, Airbus interior marketing director, said.
The new aircraft means the airline can now expand its flight coverage to both Europe and East Asia in the near future.
The second Airbus A330-300 is due for delivery in November and, according to aviation experts, the acquisition of these two wide-body aircraft will significantly increase RwandAir’s capacity to effectively meet growing demand and provide exceptional service for the ever-growing Asia-China and European passenger markets.
Hadi Akoum, Airbus executive vice-president for sales for Africa, Europe and Asia Pacific, commended the airline’s commitment to continue taking the lead in developing the continent’s aviation industry.
In 2014, RwandAir and the Eastern and Southern Africa Bank (PTA Bank) signed a financial line of credit worth $160m to support the purchase of the two airlines.
The national carrier successfully renewed its certificate for the IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) for another two years to remain competitive.
IOSA programme is an internationally recognised evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline.
And there is hope that with the two wide body aircraft, the airline’s capacity could grow from the current 500,000 passengers annually to more than three million in the next five years.
What passengers should expect
Christopher Buckley, Airbus executive vice-president for, Africa, Europe and Asia Pacific, said passengers on the new A330-200 jetliner will certainly enjoy best-in-class comfort that only Airbus offers, as well as the newest state of the art in-flight entertainment system with free Wi-Fi onboard the aircraft.
“Equally, RwandAir will be able to benefit with the A330s from the unique combination of unbeatable economics, versatility and fuel efficiency,” Buckley said.