Airbus and RwandAir in talks over yet more wide body aircraft


(Posted 29th September 2016)

(A Rolls Royce Trent 700 engine powering RwandAir’s new A330-200)

Questions were raised a few weeks ago when the Rwandan government announced that the country’s second international airport, Bugesera, will go ahead some 25 kilometres outside Kigali. The deal, structured as a BOOT project, short for Build, Own, Operate and Transfer, is worth an initial 418 million US Dollars, to be raised by Portuguese company ‘Mota Engineering and Construction Africa‘, while phase two will add a further 400 million US Dollars into the investment pot catering for up to 5 million passengers per annum.
The duration of the deal is an initial 25 years with an option to extend by a further 15 years to overall 40, after which the Republic of Rwanda will own the facility.
Comments in the region were swift to talk about the Land of a Thousand Hills overreaching even though more informed aviation pundits quickly put two and two together and put national airline RwandAir into the fray.
CEO John Mirenge some time ago told this correspondent that a fleet size of 20 short, medium and long haul aircraft was anticipated in the company’s longer term development plan and with the fleet growing to 12 by mid 2017 – from virtually zero six or seven years ago – was it increasingly clear that the present hub, Kigali International, previously known as Kanombe International Airport, will sooner or later become too small.
While the Rwandan government invested heavily to expand and modernize the present airport, catering for the now over 700.000 passenger throughput by RwandAir alone, apart from all the other international airlines calling regularly on Kigali, has Mr. Mirenge over the past few days made it clear that this number is expected to rise to over a million, when the two long haul A330’s have commenced flights to India, China and Europe.
Hints dropped by both Airbus executives and RwandAir over the past few days suggest, that a further fleet increase is on the cards, and while no one would specifically confirm that negotiations had already started over the acquisition of additional wide bodies, did Mr. Mirenge intimate during his address in Kigali that the airline was looking at an even bigger wide body to come online in about two or three years time.
That makes it all but clear that the Rwandan national airline is eyeing the world’s best performer in its class, the Airbus A350XWB, and both open comments and whispers in the corridors and among the launch party guests were unanimous that New York would be a perfect route for that aircraft type to fly nonstop from Rwanda to the United States. While this would require a Category One status certification by the FAA is it expected that the new airport will meet such exacting standards of operational security.
RwandAir over the past years has been adding passenger numbers by as much as 20 percent per annum and transit traffic through Kigali has grown exponentially, to a good part facilitated by the government’s decision two and a half years ago to grant every African Union member state citizen Visa on arrival, bucking the trend of other countries whose Visa red tape serves as a deterrent to increasing visitor numbers rather than encouraging it.
John Mirenge concluded his comments in Kigali when he acknowledged that while competition in Africa was tough has the airline in recent years made inroads to claim greater market shares, something the arrival of the first of initially two A330’s will allow to build on.
Both he and the Minister for Infrastructure, Mr. James Musoni, paid tribute to President Paul Kagame, whose interest in aviation and his understanding what crucial role air transport plays for a landlocked country, paved the way for the expansion of both the airline and aviation infrastructure in the country.