East African aviation – The battle of the skies continues with another twist of the tail

The proverbial knives are out between fast riser RwandAir and our local quasi national airline Air Uganda, over flights to and from Kigali. The erstwhile code share arrangement, talked about here repeatedly in the past, had been hollowed out when the aim to have an early morning and late evening flight, allowing convenient day trips between Uganda and Rwanda, was well near defeated as Air Uganda, due to operational / scheduling issues and aircraft availability, had to shift their morning flight to Kigali into the later morning and even early afternoon hours.
As a result, and brewing for a while, RwandAir in the end decided to come back with their own morning flights, aimed to connect traffic from Uganda into their network, to Dubai, Johannesburg, Brazzaville, Libreville and Lagos.
Fares, no surprise there, have also come down on the route as a result of having more seats to fill, and at least on RwandAir, now regularly using their B737-500 to Entebbe, passengers also find a premium class product, which even for the 35 minutes flying time is worth it for those who are accustomed to the space and the better service levels.
The Entebbe to Kigali route however has in itself become more competitive, when Qatar Airways announced a major coup, that from end March onwards they will fly between Entebbe and Kigali with full fifth freedom rights, being able to uplift traffic between the two countries, of course offering a glimpse to passengers into their acclaimed 5 star service. Turkish Airlines, though their office has not confirmed this as yet, too is contemplating to extend their flight to Entebbe with the add-on to Kigali by April, bringing yet more flights to the route.
This introduction of new connections, via Turkish with which RwandAir has a very extensive code share arrangement coming into force when the flights commence, and by Qatar Airways, the first Gulf based airline to actually make it to Kigali, has also brought fresh demands for traffic rights by others like Emirates, especially as RwandAir flies 6 times a week from Kigali to Dubai, three times via Mombasa, again with full traffic rights and three times nonstop. Reciprocity claimed is hard to deny and interested readers do well to watch this space in coming weeks as Kigalis Kanombe International Airport continues to make headlines.
Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines, the other two biggies from the wider region, will also closely monitor the effect the arrival of new rivals will have in Kigali, from where both uplifted much connecting traffic into their own networks via their respective hubs in Nairobi and Kigali. Qatar Airways, boasting the Airline of the Year 2011 accolade by SkyTrax and of course their 5 star service, is on the prowl and Turkish Airlines has aggressively entered the African market over the past two years, with a big advertising rollout yet service levels on the flights not quite meeting the expectations the commercials raised, yet pricing at levels which gets them passengers anyway.
In closing, let the smaller regional carriers be reminded to keep an eye on what is happening behind them while taking each other on in the battle for the East African skies, or their own patch thereof so that the real biggies are not the final winners taking the spoils while the attention of the others focuses on the lesser battlefield instead of the really big one, where the future market shares and dominance are being decided.

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