The battle for Rwandan skies

As a journalist following emerging trends within the local business landscape, I thought it worthwhile to develop a prediction of the 10 most notable business personalities to watch in 2011(For full list, See The New Times – Monday January 3)
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah
Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah

As a journalist following emerging trends within the local business landscape, I thought it worthwhile to develop a prediction of the 10 most notable business personalities to watch in 2011(For full list, See The New Times – Monday January 3)

The list had RwandAir CEO John Mirenge. My citation for Mr Mirenge was largely based on the fact that he has been at the forefront of the national carrier’s highly ambitious expansion agenda, on account of the news RwandAir generated last year.

I also said that such huge plans by RwandAir were happening at the time when the battle for African skies was getting tougher. According to aviation experts, Africa will this year attract big time airlines courtesy of the rising demand for air travel across Africa.

That naturally meant that African airlines would continue shopping around for more planes in a bid to cash- in on the rising number of travellers.

RwandAir went on a spending spree, acquiring a new fleet that left some watchers practically bewildered. The national carrier even made international news as the first African airline to take delivery of one of the latest models of a futuristic Boeing jet.

While pundits are befuddled by the changing fortunes of the national carrier, facts are now emerging concerning the justification of the huge investments the national carrier was making last year.

The main question was whether RwandAir was engaging in mere speculation or prudent business predictions.

With the New Year, it did not take a week before we reported how Rwanda’s aviation industry has generated interest. When Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced that it had given Qatar Airways the nod to ply the Kigali route and went ahead to share some vital statistics as to why the route is gaining traffic, the justification for RwandAir’s expansion was there for all to see.

CAA says that Kigali International Airport is projected to handle 450,000 passengers this year, up from 350,000 last year. The additional 100,000 passengers expected to fly in and out of Kigali justify the rapidly expanding RwandAir, as Kigali International Airport is home to the national carrier.

Such fast changing dynamics is the reason why Mr Mirenge is expected to be on the spotlight this year. Huge investments have been made to prop up the national carrier. The Kigali route is attracting more airlines in close tandem with Rwanda’s aspirations of the airport being a hub in the region.

It should also be noted that the new carriers coming to town are more experienced than RwandAir. Out of the seven companies that are set to battle it out with RwandAir, it is only Ugandan Airlines that is younger.

There will be more pressure on RwandAir, to ensure that investments made have returns. Mr Mirenge will need to employ some David Vs Goliath strategy to stay ahead of the big boys in African aviation industry.

Getting RwandAir to stay afloat within such a competitive environment means a lot. It points out to the level of competitiveness local companies face to stay relevant to the new dynamics of business in Kigali as the year 2012 takes shape.

The author is an editor at The New Times
Ojiwah@newtimes.co.rw

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