RwandAir – A regional success story set to fly higher still


When on October 22ndRwandAir’s and in fact Africa’s first CRJ900 touches down in Kigali, undoubtedly first having performed the traditional low level fly-past, invited guests are likely to hear a range of announcements about the airline’s plans for new destinations and more frequencies. The sale of the carrier’s owned CRJ200 aircraft to a West African start up airline, held back such plans, and since the two aircraft departed from the fleet only on destination was added, Mwanza / Tanzania in July, to where a Bombardier Dash 8-100 is being deployed.

Within the space of not more than 2 weeks, perhaps even faster, the first CRJ900 will be joined by her sister-ship, bringing the RwandAir fleet again up to 7 aircraft and allowing the long prepared roll out of more destinations. Privy to some of the plans, but having been asked to hold the release of such information back for a little longer to prevent the ‘opposition to be tipped off too soon’ my sources do not need to bite their fingernails but can relax, for now that is. Today it is the secret of the airline’s success we will look into. Flights in recent months have revealed a startling trend, showing how past action plans are starting to mature and bear fruits. Flights from the West African destinations of Brazzaville, Libreville and Lagos, but also flights from Johannesburg and Dubai, discharge more and more passengers into the ‘transit’ channel of Kigali’s Kanombe International Airport, and where in the past few, at times none would connect somewhere else, this has suddenly become a significant element of RwandAir’s overall traffic.

Started by Michael Otieno, the airline’s former Corporate Communications and PR Manager, web based direct marketing had started to become a regular feature and with the arrival of Jackie Arkle, Senior Manager Marketing, e-Commerce and Loyalty Programmes, the social media are now abuzz with fares, special deals and target group focused offers, and not just to Kigali but emphasizing the network connections across Africa and into the Gulf. ‘The sale of the CRJ200 was an opportunity RwandAir could not miss. Traffic volumes had grown and the airline is intent to provide high quality air transport. This means a business class is essential in their jet aircraft. The time gap between early this year and October, lacking these two aircraft, surely posed a challenge for them. But when the new jets arrive, they are completely ready to integrate the two aircraft and from day one the expansion drive will resume. You have rightly observed the grown volume of transit traffic. Rwanda’s aviation vision is to connect our country to Africa and beyond, but also connect Africa and beyond with the rest of Africa. Transit traffic helps generate greater passenger volumes because after all, we are a small country. To growth comes with thinking outside the box. Too many airlines in the region are stagnating because they have not looked beyond their own point to point flying. RwandAir has a good strategy, are fully supported by government and have a budget line from them. Our national airline is a strategic asset, a tool the country uses very smartly. And when Wake [Former long serving Ethiopian Airlines
CEO] arrived as chairman of the board, those inside the airline talked of a new spirit, a new buzz, new confidence that there were no limits to what RwandAir could achieve’ said a regular aviation source from Kigali, affirming the observations made.

When the two jets are operational, it will not be long before the new destinations will see their inaugural flights launched and on select regional routes more frequencies added, and the present marketing offensive by the airline, showing attractive through fares from one end of the network to the other, will be stepped up some more. Growing transit traffic is also of course aimed to creating volumes, which can from 2016 onwards sustain the operation of two B787 Dreamliner’s which are due to come on line around the same time that the new international airport at Bugesera will be ready. Until then, improvements at Kanombe International will continue to provide better passenger comfort and facilities, to bridge the time gap until 2016, when Bugesera should be coming on line.

RwandAir has reportedly two added options for the CRJ900 aircraft type, with 75 seats in a two class configuration the right size to cover regional routes, and it is presently anyone’s guess what new deal will be struck with GECAS, Boeing directly or Bombardiers – they have their highly acclaimed CSeries go into service next year – to replace the two B737-500 when the leases come to an end.

Growing transit traffic volumes , besides regional point to point traffic to all major airports across Eastern Africa, will require a gradual fleet expansion to be able to feed enough traffic into intercontinental destinations, when the B787’s arrive, those to be deployed very likely to destinations in the Gulf, India and Europe of course. The location of Rwanda on the African continent makes it an ideal hub for connecting traffic and the people at the top, Mirenge and Wake and their team of fiercely loyal staf, will for sure scheme up a few more surprises, leaving a number of other airlines in the region trailing in their wake.

I may have my doubts on the impact of new low cost carriers, as after all their cost base, unlike in their present areas of operation in Europe, are literally the same as everyone else’s in the region, but I have no doubt at all that RwandAir will leave a widening net of jet trails painted to the skies over Africa and fly from success to success. Happy Landings.


  1. I think to really call Rwandair a success story you would need to see their numbers and from what I hear they are anything but close to be profitable. One might say though that the overall benefit from carrying tourists and business people to Rwanda would outweigh the financial losses, but this is very difficult to measure and bears the question how transit passengers are bringing business to Kigali (expect to the Duty Free shop). So I am not quite convinced Rwandair is a success story, as it seems to be a loss making airline expanding on the back of government credit lines, which thereby cross subsidises regional air travel. These government resources could/should have been used for other priorities (e.g. energy generation) and I know that institutions such as the IMF are similar critical of this airline venture. Furthermore it is not that much a of secret that there is considerable fascination with aviation within the highest Rwandan leadership and the airline is sometimes seen as the most expansive toy of the same.

    Thank you for the information though Dr Thome and it would be great to a response.

  2. Jameer,

    I’ve just read your reply to Wolfgang’s post. RwandAir has come a long way…from an airline that used to lease all its aircraft to now owning their own aircraft is a success story don’t you think? An airline that invests in its people and in the region and ensuring it employes staff with the right skills is also a great step in the right direction.

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