RWANDAIR SET TO SOAR AS NEW AIRCRAFT DELIVERIES DRAW CLOSER
(RwandAirs new CRJ 900 jet, in the final stages of assembly)
When half a year ago news were broken here that RwandAir had indeed put pen to paper and ordered two brand new CRJ900 jets, plus at least one confirmed additional option from Bombardier in Canada, after all not settling for the overtures of Embraer which had pulled out all stops to score, some other airlines in the region had the proverbial sit down and scratched their heads, wondering what Rwandas national airline was up to, and more important, how did they do it.
A few years ago, CEO John Mirenge never tires of pointing that out with understandable pride, WB was a virtual airline, not owning a single aircraft at the time. When acquisition talks with the remaining single suitor came to a halt, the airline, and Rwandas powers that be recognized that as a landlocked country they needed a national carrier as a strategic asset and a management to match ambition a new direction was mapped out and presented for consideration. The subsequent changes were swift and for many surprisingly decisive, not though for close observers of Rwanda Incorporated. The airline wetleased a Bombardier Dash 8 aircraft from Kenyas ALS, then added two B737-500 on lease from GECAS and two CRJ200 on lease from Kenyas Jetlink, before eventually purchasing two CRJ200 jets from Germanys flag carrier Lufthansa, along with a maintenance package and maintenance support. Suddenly, the airline had 4 jets, two leased and two owned plus the turboprop for domestic flights and near regional routes like Bujumbura and Entebbe. Destinations were added, as were frequencies to key destinations like Nairobi and Entebbe. And again to the surprise of many, last year RwandAir took delivery of two owned B737-800 SkyInterior, beating established airlines like Ethiopian to the door in being the first airline in Africa to fly the new birds. Then news broke of an MoU having been signed between RwandAir and Boeing for the purchase of two B787 Dreamliners, giving notice of intent that the airline was in a few years going to fly intercontinental to key destinations in Europe, perhaps India too, to connect the Land of a Thousand Hills with the world at their own terms, not at the mercy of others.
The arrival of the new B737NGs brought about further changes, with the airline flying 6 times a week to Dubai now, three of the flights with full traffic rights via Mombasa, while Johannesburg is now served daily and the West African destinations of Brazzaville combined with Libreville and Lagos three times a week each.
Yet, when the CRJ200 were sold, some of the scheduled departures had to be rationalized, in other words frequencies were re-worked to allow the remaining fleet to operate on schedule. Still, Mwanza was added in July, with the Dash 8 flying there three times a week and a number of new destinations are on the drawing board, when the new jets arrive next month.
(The business class section of the new CRJ900 in a 2×1 configuration of 7 seats and 2×2 in economy with 68 seats)
October 22nd has been given from a usually very reliable source within RwandAir as the date the first of the two CRJ900 will touch down in Kigali, to be followed within a week or so by the second aircraft. Again, like with the B737-800 SkyInterior RwandAir will be the first African airline to fly the CRJ 900 across the skies of the continent. Configured in a dual class layout of business and economy, the new birds will undoubtedly give the airline new lift and will show the regions aviation industry what can be done when all pull in the same direction and follow a well thought out business plan. What will in the weeks following unfold will be of keen interest to many, but let it suffice now to say more destinations, more frequencies on existing routes and substituting the B737s on routes like Entebbe with the new birds, allowing the larger aircraft to be redeployed where they are needed.
The next round of acquisitions will be coming up when the leases for the two B737-500s mature and speculation is rife what will happen then. Will it result in upgrades to the B737-800 or perhaps the smaller B737-700 or turning the option for another CRJ900 into a firm order or two. What is a certainty is that RwandAir will continue to surprise many, observers, the media and mostly their competitors, as the team at the helm, CEO John Mirenge and Chairman of the Board Girma Wake, previously a long serving CEO at Ethiopian Airlines, for sure will scheme up a few more surprises where they want to take RwandAir in coming years. Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from the Eastern African region.