Rwanda to scale down reliance on expat pilots

Rwanda is set to launch the first Fixed wing Centre of Excellence in Aviation between February and May next year, aimed at training local students into future professional aviators, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.
Kayumba (R) was awarded the best overall performer prize during the graduation ceremony. Nadege Imbabazi.
Kayumba (R) was awarded the best overall performer prize during the graduation ceremony. Nadege Imbabazi.

Rwanda is set to launch the first Fixed wing Centre of Excellence in Aviation between February and May next year, aimed at training local students into future professional aviators, according to the Ministry of Infrastructure.

This was announced by Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye, the state minister in charge of transport, during the third graduation ceremony of Rwanda Air Force student pilots, at Kigali Convention Centre on Thursday.

The minister disclosed that the government’s plan to set up the aviation centre is in line with the country’s vision to grow and promote the local aviation industry, as well as increase the number of skilled local pilots.

“The work has already started and we are expecting to open the centre early next year, probably between February and May. The Centre of Excellence in Aviation will train not only future pilots but also aviation technicians, engineers, airport managers, and other in-demand professionals the industry needs,” he said.

Currently, Akagera Aviation is the only aviation training institution approved by Rwanda Civil Authority. The current institution trains less than 15 students per year. With the establishment of the new aviation centre, Uwihanganye said that the country would raise the number of students.

He said that aviation has been identified as one of the economic pillars of the nation, but that the government has identified significant skills gap in the aviation industry that needs to be addressed.

“There is a general consensus that expatriates in the growing local aviation industry will not be sustainable in the medium to long term, thereby requiring that urgent action be taken to address the problem,” Uwihanganye said.

This, he said, resulted into setting up of a centre that will address the skills gap and help accelerate the country’s efforts towards promoting the aviation industry.

The country has significantly invested in aviation and air transport, and future plans are also promising, with Bugesera International Airport in the pipeline. As a landlocked country, Rwanda looks to strategically directing more efforts in aviation.

“What we know is that Rwanda is landlocked, but this doesn’t mean that we are an air locked country. It is important that we put more efforts in the aviation sector to be able to connect with other countries,” the minister noted, adding that this can be achieved by strengthening human capacity.

According to Patrick Nkulikiyimfura, the managing director of Akagera Aviation, since 2009 about 50 pilots have been trained minus the latest group.

Currently, RwandAir employs about 150 pilots out of which less than 25 are Rwandans.

The centre, which will be operating under Akagera Aviation, officials said, would help the country train over 200 pilots in the next five years.

At the moment, Akagera Aviation offers fixed and rotary wing aircraft pilot training, licensed engineers’ training, airline operations-related courses, and airport operations-related courses.

But Nkulikiyimfura said that they want to go beyond these courses.

“Our pilots are now serving under peace keeping missions in different parts of the world. However, we are looking at training pilots who would work for RwandAir, because the national carrier needs more commercial pilots for the next five to seven years,” he said.

The Boeing’s 2012 Pilot and Technician Outlook Report estimates that 6,000 new pilots will be required until 2032, and some 14,500 new pilots will be required between 2012 and 2031 in Africa.

Eleven helicopter pilots graduate

Akagera Aviation Flying School this week graduated eleven Rwanda Air Force student pilots who were awarded certificates for helicopter flying after spending 16 months of intensive theoretical and practical training.

The students, who are the third cohort of home bred pilots, studied subjects ranging from aero-dynamics, and air navigation to air regulations, and radio communication, among others.

Nkulikiyimfura noted that the third graduation falls within the company’s mandate of rapidly reducing the skills gap in aviation industry, and putting the country on a highly visible market in aviation developments.

“What’s next is for us to connect the dots, especially at this time when we are promoting Made-in-Rwanda’. We are embarking on a mission to take aviation training higher. In the recent years, we have produced 50 helicopter pilots, but our aim is to train more,” he said.

Uwihanganye challenged the graduates to explore available opportunities and use the acquired skills to solve the challenges in the aviation industry.

“Today we are sending you out to the world as men of integrity, always grab the opportunity to help the country redefine and solve the challenges we face in aviation,” he told them.

Speaking to Saturday Times, Richard Kayumba, one of the graduates, said that they had acquired aviation knowledge and skills that they hope will help them serve their country.

“I had doubt when I was joining aviation and it was quite hard when I started. But today, it is exciting that I managed to make it. I am ready to put to good use the skills and knowledge I have acquired to build my country,” said Kayumba, who was also awarded the Best Overall Performer of the Class of 2017.

The graduation ceremony was also graced by Rwanda’s ambassador to Sweden, Christine Nkulikiyinka, and Air Force Chief of Staff, Brig Gen. Charles Karamba, among other officials.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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