TOURISM, AVIATION AND CONSERVATION NEWS from the Eastern African and Indian Ocean region
A weekly roundup of reports, travel stories and opinions by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang H. Thome
Get daily breaking news updates instantly via Twitter by following @whthome or read the daily postings on my blog via: www.wolfganghthome.wordpress.com Many of these articles then also appear on the Africa Travel Association web magazine and of course via global industry leaders eTN on www.eturbonews.com/africa
Second edition November 2011
East Africa News
VOTING FOR NEW SEVEN WORLD WONDERS LEAVES AFRICA TRAILING
East Africas tourism attractions, like the gorilla national parks in the Virunga mountains, Mt. Kilimanjaro or the Masai Mara are presently not featuring in the intermediate top 10 positions, which are held by front runners Dead Sea, Grand Canyon and Great Barrier Reef with many other Asian tourism attractions making up the remaining positions. What is clear this year is that the campaign for voting for home based attractions was far more intense in the countries where the front runners are placed, with internet penetration and encouragement by national, regional and local tourism board offices making a huge difference. Cape Towns Table Mountain was for a while thought to be in the top 10 at this stage but inspite of an inspired follow up this has not been enough to reach that level, leave alone the votes for East Africas attractions, which are all lagging seriously behind. While the tourism boards and private sector participants are now in London for the worlds second most important tourism trade fair, WTM, maybe they can galvanize attention through a superior performance and ask stand visitors to vote for their attraction to catapult one or the other into the final top 10 count. All the best to all candidates right now but would it not be nice to see at least one East African attraction end up amongst the worlds best? We sure have the attractions and sites, just not the votes yet.
ECONOMIC WOES IN EAST AFRICA LIKELY TO IMPACT ON AIRLINE SHARE OFFERS
Honestly this could not have come at a worse time, Central Banks pushing interest rates up, liquidity getting tighter, credit more expensive and now both Precision and KQ are in the market for floating shares said a regular aviation pundit from Nairobi to this correspondent when discussing an emerging report from Kenyas capital yesterday afternoon, that Kenya Airways may have to resort to substantial and possibly deep discounting in order to place all their new shares, with some financial analysts suggesting at least a 20 percent margin while others go even beyond that figure. We were shocked when you reported that Precision had expanded their IPO period to be able to sell here in Kenya because first Tanzania really did not want Kenyans to buy any of their shares and secondly because extending an IPO is unusual and maybe a sign how tough the market now is he then added, referring to a breaking news story filed nearly 48 hours ago. The Precision IPO extension in fact brought prompt queries from regular readers who equally disputed the reported facts but eventually learned that indeed that has been the case and that the airline itself had also confirmed the move.
Discounting share issues is not new but the level of discounting in this case for KQ when eventually announced, and the results on 15th November of the take up of the shares offered by Precision, will be an indicator just how recent economic developments have impacted on the financial instruments markets, and will in turn very likely affect airlines in the market for new aircraft vis a vis their ability to finance them at a reasonable and affordable cost. Said an occasional source from further afield in the United States, who posted a few emailed questions on the Precision story: You are not even factoring in yet the possible fallout of the Somali situation. Your region is on the brink really, and anything which could happen, a terror strike for instance, might tear right into the performance of the tourism industry. I know you dont want to write scary things about the region you love but you got to be honest to be credible. If you report you have to factor in all elements, at once and not piecemeal.
Yes, dont we all have opinions about things but as replied, the considerations what I write and how I put things are mine and mine alone and not subject to any influence peddling, positive or negative. Watch this space as more information becomes available on the performance of the Precision Air IPO and the share price at which KQ will in due course announce their share issue.
CONSENSUS BUILDS ON TOTAL EMBARGO ON SOMALIA AND NO FLY ZONE
The news that two plane loads of weaponry and ammunition being offloaded yesterday at the airport of Baidoa in Al Shabab controlled parts of Somalia has sent a further message to the powers involved in the fight against terrorism and militancy in this largely lawless nation at the Horn of Africa, that the time is now to act and to act decisively and without fear of the misguided opinions, loud as they maybe, of the global cry baby groups who once again fail to understand that they and their values too are under attack and they would not be spared by the militants.
For long have select members of the naval coalition fighting against the ocean terror unleashed by the Somali pirates on shipping along this crucial route to and from the Red Sea demanded that the Somali coastline needed to be put under a full embargo with permission for movements to be obtained from the coalition forces or else to be treated as hostile. Now these calls have been renewed for a full air embargo when news emerged through Kenyan military channels that two planes did manage to land inside Al Shabab territory bringing fresh supplies to the terrorists. Immediate allegations were made against Eritrea of being behind the move, which if found true would certainly pitch that Stalinesque country again into renewed confrontation with the IGAD group and might finally put the regime in Asmara into the crosshairs of military strategists plotting for regime change through a range of options available to them clearly now aided by having drones operate from not just inside Ethiopia but also able to launch them from Djibouti. While this may be interpreted as a hostile act by Eritrea, and might be prodding them to lash out, they would be ill prepared for a sustained aircampaign against them nor for seeing their port being blocked, should hostilities break out and spread.
An earlier article published here As Kenya goes into Somalia Afwerki sneaks off to Khartoum too gets additional relevance as both leaders are struggling for survival in the face of ever harsher living conditions, rising prices, spreading unemployment and a bloody and draconian rule. They might get backing though as proxies of their true godfathers who are fermenting trouble wherever they can, not shy using terrorism as a tool when it suits then and it is an open secret where they are based.
Meanwhile is Kenya faced with the dilemma to send warplanes deeper into Somalia to prevent such flights and either try to turn the planes back, force them to fly on to and land in Kenya for inspection or else bring such flights to an end in midair.
Whichever the case, our Kenyan brothers need our fullest support as they are doing the dirty work on the ground others were too shy to do and I am NOT talking of our Ugandan compatriots already fighting Al Shabab in their thousands from Mogadishu, and neither of our Burundian brothers in arms doing the same. Aerial surveillance and strike capabilities are welcome, much welcome in fact when used as it is hoped for, but barely enough considering the reports on the latest re-supplies coming in. Maybe these drones should be used against such targets too and the secondary explosions after a missile strike would be proof enough that ammunition and explosives have been hit, upholding a principle that whatever one can do to deny an enemy is adding further strength to our own cause. My thoughts are with the AMISON and Kenyan troops on the ground in Somalis, as well as the TFG units fighting alongside them, for a speedy and comprehensive conclusion of their present involvement.
FOREST MANAGERS UNDER FIRE
Hapless comes to mind when thinking of the National Forest Authoritys management, which has come under renewed scrutiny and is facing yet more allegations, this time from the conservation fraternity in Entebbe. NFA has been in disarray in recent years following suspensions, arrests and a wide range of allegations over the conduct of the board and senior management and is alongside the Uganda Wildlife Authority a negative example of how erstwhile important and functioning public bodies have been disemboweled and dismembered to serve the ends of misguided political masters.
Members of the Entebbe District Wildlife Association and of the Uganda Wildlife Clubs have now given NFA an ultimatum to fully explain their bending over and giving away sections of the Kitubulu Forest Reserve, which the activists say the NFA had no business of giving away as it belonged to the people of Uganda and not the beneficiary individuals now celebrating the way NFA caved in. How can the Acting ED give away this forest? Let him not claim it is plots outside because these are part of the forest. Remember, when the Norwegian was in charge he threw the book at those constructing houses in the forest and he was right. How can the position back then no longer be right today? What has happened behind the scenes? When such things happen in Uganda we suspect something helped the decision along? We need an explanation and we ask parliament to investigate this, the Inspector General of Government to look into this so that a big loss for the public can be avoided. Every day we hear a wetland has been occupied, drained, protected areas like forests are encroached or will be given away for free, what is happening with conservation in Uganda? We planted a lot of trees there with approval from NFA and now they are suddenly changing tunes a regular conservation source from Kampala communicated to this correspondent when it became known that anger was building and protests could be launched against NFA. Conservation sacrificed on the altar of development it seems once again Quo Vadis Uganda?
BROKE GOVERNMENT TO DITCH POWER SUBSIDIES?
As the much awaited Bujagali hydro electric power plant is due to go into production later this month with an initial output of 50 MW, gradually rising to a full 250 MW at peak demand periods by April next year, have news emerged that government is considering to expire subsidies to the sector.
Already in serious default over payment of contractually agreed subsidies to the independent power producers using thermal plants, propelled by diesel or heavy fuel oil, the empty coffers and inflationary pressures have created this doomsday scenario, following relatively uncontrolled spending by government in the past.
Estimates were published that from a present cost to the domestic end consumer of 385.60 Uganda Shillings per kilowatt hour this could rise to more than 800 Uganda Shillings, making it not only the most expensive electricity bills in the region but fueling inflation even more than is presently the case.
While government seems to think that shifting these resources to promote power generation, mainly financing and fast tracking the proposed Karuma Falls hydro electric project, Ugandans may have different views when increased electricity bills start hitting them, also having implications for the political situation in the country, where tempers are already flying high and hot.
Hoteliers polled on the subject were up in arms over the prospects of seeing their already significant electricity cost doubled, with some of them saying it would immediately result in higher tariffs for hotel accommodation as no amount of trying to save somewhere else can absorb such an increase. This would seriously impact also on the cost of safaris across the Ugandan national parks, a dampener on the hopes for a great 2012 after Uganda was declared as the most desirable tourism destination last week according to a global survey. And with oil production remaining a distant hope, after government and in particular
Tullow Oil being remain bogged down over contractual and policy issues, there is no telling when this situation will improve or when cheaper, locally pumped crude will find its way into the Ugandan supply chain and bring prices down. Watch this space.
UGANDA MUSEUM CASE HEADS BACK TO COURT
The leftovers of the controversial reign of Kahinda Otafire as Minister of Tourism, Trade and Industry up to the elections earlier this year and the formation of a new government, are coming back to haunt as the case brought by friends of the Uganda Museum is going back to court this Tuesday.
Otafire had casually dismissed opponents of his megalomaniac plans to build a 60 storey Trade Centre on the site of the museum, incidentally with no concrete plans how to finance the building, for which the old had to give way to the new and in turn graciously offering two floors of the new tower to house the museum.
Conservationists, historic building buffs and those feeling the need to preserve listed buildings in Uganda, of which the Uganda Museum is one, filed suit against the government at the time Otafire gave his full mouthed statements and won an injunction, barring government from interfering with the building and halting any progress on the planning or work on the site. Hopes are high that when the hearing of the main case goes underway, that government will be permanently barred from developing the site.
Sadly, and it seems especially so under Otafires reign, is the department of antiquities amongst the worst facilitated in the ministry, leading to decay in the museums still nominally in existence across the country while at the Uganda Museum the lack of funding shows in the upkeep and their ability to host regular major themed shows and exhibitions, which could spur greater interest and support the financial well being of the institution.
Opponents of the project are also taking hope that the current financial situation in the country, with empty government coffers and inflation running at over 30 percent, there will simply be no money to go ahead, unless the entire site is privatized, a phrase often used to hive off assets to buddies who then share their ill gotten windfall with their political godfathers. Watch this space as the case begins in earnest at the High Court in Kampala, at 2 pm this Tuesday.
RHINO FUND UGANDA / ZIWA RHINO SANCTUARY PUBLISH 2012 RATES
As earlier indicated here has the Rhino Fund Uganda now published its tariffs for activities at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which covers an expanded range of options for visitors.
Entrance to the conservancy remains free but those going out on gamedrives or the guided walks, to see the rhinos or to go for birding, will pay a fee at the sanctuary headoffice.
Accommodation is available at Ziwa with the guest houses remaining popular with families and the expat community visiting from Kampala but budget accommodation too is available, with meals for guests served at the restaurant, which is also open for casual visitors.
A more recent development on Ziwa is the new Amuka Lodge, which provides very upmarket accommodation for those willing to dig a little deeper into their pockets, but well worth it.
Ziwa now has 6 adult rhinos, 3 adolescent males and 1 female calf born a few weeks ago, with two more of the adult females expecting their babies in coming weeks. Watch this space for announcements and go to the RFU / Ziwa website www.rhinofund.org for more information and details on the tariffs.
KAMPALA INTERNATIONAL MTN MARATHON ATTRACTS 25.000
Registration for the annual MTN Marathon this year will end on the 14th of November giving MTN and its volunteer army including the Uganda Red Cross Society, the opportunity to make final arrangements for the massive logistics which have to be put into place before the races are taking off on the day.
Sunday the 27th November is race day in Kampala and parts of the city, starting from the area around the start and finish at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds, are expected to be off limits for traffic.
Last year the races, the full Marathon of 42+ kilometres, the Half Marathon of 21 kilometres and the 10 KM race, yielded over 230 million Uganda Shillings, much of which went to the Uganda Red Cross Society and other beneficiaries to carry out community projects across the country for the provision of clean drinking water. Numbers this year were raised from the previous 20.000 runners to 25.000 runners, making the race larger and more challenging to organize but according to an MTN source all is in hand and going smoothly.
For visitors to Kampala on 27th November, expect the city to be painted in Yello the trademark colours of MTN as professionals, amateurs, individuals and a host of company and NGO sponsored teams battle it out on the streets of Kampala. Prediction for winners are as usual leaning towards the highly rated Kenyan and Ethiopian entries, who have over the past years swept the top three positions in the individual men and women races. Watch this space.
SECOND FLOODS IN A WEEK SHOWS THE ROT IN DRAINAGE SYSTEMS
Kampala is flooded was the essence of communications from the city for the second time within a week, when thunderstorms of biblical proportions his the Ugandan capital and the skies opened up, causing metre deep floods and worse within an hour. Low lying areas, reclaimed wetlands and former swamps, were filling up fastest, showing the people who built houses into these sensitive areas what fools they were to ignore advice to stay out of wetlands. The famous Clock Tower roundabout and entrance into the main Central Business District was flooded once again, as were sections of the Entebbe road, where drainage channels are clogged up with discarded plastic bags, making it impossible for water to drain off and flooding surrounding areas. Here travelers trying to get to the airport were reportedly stranded and subsequently missed their flights, as were arriving passengers from the airport trying to reach their hotels stuck in the murky waters, often so high that it was leaking into their transfer vehicles while attempting to get to their hotels.
Medical concerns have been voiced immediately by NGOs and health staff that many of the wells, used by people in particular in slum areas, where no or little piped water is available, were flooded and contaminated leading to the risk of the outbreak and spread of disease.
The rains, unusually heavy once again and a reminder of the ongoing climate change, are also causing further crack on the slopes of Mt. Elgon where a rift has opened up in recent years and continuously grown wider, now at some places almost two feet wide. Deforestation, caused by illegal squatters, is to blame here but generally, flash floods have become more common in rivers and streams due to often illegal and indiscriminate felling of trees along river banks and catchment areas. Clearing of forests for the making of charcoal too have been cited as a major reason for the continuous deforestation in the country and a toothless National Forest Authority, emancipated by the political masters and drowned in controversies, seems unable to fully execute its mandate as required under the law.
A timely reminder how much worse all this could become, should the plans of the powers that be to hive off over 7.000 hectares of prime tropical rainforest at Mabira come to reality, as the planned sugar cane plantations would barely hold a fraction of the rainwater the forest now absorbs.
Floods in Kampala, the price we pay for poor city management, intolerable absence of regular clearance and cleaning of drains by the city council and the environmental sins of our fathers coming home to haunt us.
While massive loss of property was reported thankfully no lives were lost, or reported lost at the time of going to press.
QATAR AIRWAYS CEO AL BAKER GRACES LAUNCH OF DAILY FLIGHTS, MEETS MEDIA
The outspoken Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker, was in Kampala for the inaugural flight between Doha and Entebbe and took the opportunity to address local, regional and global media representatives at the Kampala Serena Hotel, where the various launch activities were centred, befittingly matching 5 star in the air with 5 star on the ground.
Giving a broad overview about the history of Qatar Airways, the CEO also outlined the additional complementary services owned and operated at Doha International Airport, such as ground handling, catering, duty free operations and the Oryx Hotel, managed on behalf of the airline by regional hotel group Rotana. Notably it was mentioned that over 250 Ugandan citizens are already employed by QR and deployed in a variety of positions with the airline in Doha, in Kampala and at the Entebbe International Airport. More, it was understood from a Qatar Airways HR staff in Kampala for the launch, were being recruited soon for cabin crew and other positions.
It was also pointed out that an extensive interline agreement had been signed recently with Precision Air to widen the reach across Tanzania, where double daily flights presently are operating to Dar es Salaam. New destinations in the region, after Entebbe, were given as Mombasa and Zanzibar, though no details on the flight routing was mentioned, i.e. a combination of both or an extension of some of the double daily frequencies from Nairobi or Dar respectively. Mr. Al Baker also expressed his interest in flying to the Rwandan capital Kigali, which however is presently still under discussion with negotiations going on for a bilateral air services agreement. What is clear though is a strong and growing commitment by QR to comprehensively cover the African continent and provide further options and choices for travelers connecting in Doha into the airlines global network.
While discussing the flights to Uganda it was also learned that Qatar Airways, probably in view of the A 320 used on the route for the daily flights not being able to uplift palletized cargo, was now flying twice a week a dedicated A300F to Entebbe to airlift fresh produce, flowers and fish to the Gulf and other consumer markets.
Once in Doha and connecting on the airlines wide body planes, the true extent of the 5 star service becomes apparent for passengers, as the cabin layout for instance in the B777 was a generous 2x2x2 flat bed configuration in business class and an even more generous 3x3x3 configuration in economy class, generally a seat less in each row than QRs closest rivals offer.
Al Baker, visibly beaming with pride when making this announcement, said the average age of the airlines fleet was less than 4 years, and growing younger with the delivery of more aircraft at regular intervals, and that its order for the A350, now under development by Airbus, was the largest of its kind for the European manufacturer. The A380, of which Qatar Airways currently has 5 on order, will begin to join the fleet in 2012 and while not being drawn into more details, Al Baker did say that he will make a bombshell announcement at the Dubai Airshow in a weeks time, when and here this correspondent has to speculate for the time being a major additional order for the giant A380 will be made public. This aircraft notably will carry a three class configuration while all other wide bodied aircraft only offer the award winning business class and the equally award winning and extra spacious economy class.
In this connection it is noteworthy, and in fact a dead giveaway about the forthcoming order announcement here I personally think only the size of the order is in question and possibly stretching to dozens that the new Doha International Airport, due to open next year, is actually designed around the A380 becoming the airports dominant aircraft. Developed at a cost of around 14.5 billion US Dollars the new airport, only a few kilometres from the present facility, will in its ultimate development stage be able to handle 50+ million passengers, a sign of the supreme confidence that Qatar had as a country and Qatar Airways has as the national airline in their ability to grow way beyond average and increase their market share, within the Gulf region and globally, at the expense of others faced with infrastructure constraints, lack of slots, ageing fleets and lower service levels.
At the new airport Qatar is setting another world first with the construction of the largest ever maintenance hangar, over a kilometre long and able to accommodate at the same time 2 A380, 3 B777 aircraft and a number of other smaller aircraft. This state of the art maintenance facility is primarily aimed at maintaining the QR fleet but will arguably also carry out contract maintenance for other airlines.
All the senior executives of Qatar Airways present never failed to stress the point that service, on the ground and in the air, was the key to the airlines success and that they were truly pulling out all the stops to give the perfect service, or as perfect as humanly possible to retain the global number one spot as established by Skytrax in regular surveys over the past years. Human resource development, and recruitment of the brightest and keenest, was therefore a cornerstone of the airlines success, as was continuous training.
Sustainability was another area of the media briefing, when it was highlighted that Qatar was pioneering new fuels in cooperation with major oil companies to further reduce carbon emissions.
When questions were fielded at the end of the presentation, Mr. Al Baker then commented on a range of issues, such as the EUs ETS, which while calling it the EUs right to introduce he also blamed for increasing fares and cost of airtravel. In the same breath he termed the current trend of governments attempting to fill their empty coffers by taxing airlines with a range of green or eco taxes as bullshit, making it clear he did not think that any of those proceeds would be used to improve aviation facilities or in fact mitigate carbon emissions and climate change but simply as yet another tax to be spent on matters unrelated to aviation.
Asked though about his airlines projected market shares a few years down the line he was notably shyer and not commenting, in itself probably answer enough that when the new additional A380 order is announced in a couple of days in Dubai, the trend and intent will be written on the wall for all to see. This will apply for in particular the North American and European competitors who will continue to trail in the wake of aviations greatest earthquake in terms of market share re-distribution seen in a generation, moving traffic from the traditional aviation powers to the cash rich, visionary and enabled leading Gulf airlines soon operating from new mega airports which serve as their global hubs from where one can reach any point on the globe nonstop.
For now though, Uganda is rightly proud to have been able to attract Qatar Airways to come into Entebbe on a daily basis, unlike other airlines which after years and years of operation still fly only three or four or five times a week a bold statement by QR that they are here to make an immediate impact and take the market by storm, with excellent fares and the best service available in the air anywhere. From this correspondent it is a warm welcome and many happy landings in the Pearl of Africa and across the network.
ROGER WAMARA JOINS QATAR AIRWAYS
Long serving Brussels Airlines Sales Manager Uganda, Mr. Roger Wamara, yesterday gave the green light to a secret kept for a little while already to be finally made public, that he is going to leave Brussels Airlines by the end of the month to join Qatar Airways, now flying daily from Doha to Entebbe.
Roger has been a fixture at the SN offices for times almost too long to remember and according to a regular source within the Brussels Airlines office his departure came as a complete shock and surprise.
While SN has yet to make an announcement on naming a replacement for Roger, he will be off to join one of the worlds high flyers in the global skies and THE five star airline as senior Qatar Airways executives in meetings in Kampala yesterday with this correspondent never failed to point out.
Rogers move to Qatar Airways has been broadly welcomed by those asked by this correspondent, most of whom were still quite unaware of this development but with his extensive network of contacts Roger will undoubtedly be a big asset to help fill those daily A320 flights from Entebbe.
Said Roger: This is going to be a big challenge and I look forward to it before his broad trade mark grin seemed to add and YES I CAN.
EMIRATES GETS ANOTHER A 380, ANNOUNCES INCREASE OF SINGAPORE FLIGHTS
Information was passed to this correspondent yesterday by a regular source at the Emirates Kampala office that after taking delivery of yet another A380 recently the airline is now increasing its flights between Dubai and Singapore from 21 per week, i.e. three times a day, to initially 26 flights per week, before going 4 times daily from February 2012 onwards. This will give travelers from Uganda and those coming to Uganda from Singapore more options. Already we fly three times a day, now this will add 5 more weekly flights and a passenger has the choice to stay in transit for a while at the airport and enjoy the shopping experience or simply the facilities the airport offers to Emirates passengers.
Emirates presently flies daily between Dubai and Entebbe, via Addis Ababa with incidentally full traffic rights on the route, being able to carry passengers from Uganda to Ethiopia, besides which the airline operates regular dedicated cargo services facilitating the export of fresh produce to the UAE. When asked about the start of Qatar Airways daily flights to Uganda the same source said: It is really about bringing people to Uganda, maybe more than taking Ugandans abroad, and this country has the space to accommodate a lot more visitors. It is also a fellow Gulf based airline and that shows that our part of the world is making a big impact on global aviation trends, we connect the world through our hubs and Uganda is benefitting from it. True words, spoken clearly from a position of strength!
FORMER ENERGY MINISTER ACCUSES HIS TOP STAFF AND BUJAGALI PROMOTERS OF LYING
In another astonishing outburst has embattled Internal Affairs Minister Hillary Onek whose resignation parliament demanded over allegation of involvement in bribery told members of parliament that for all purposes did the Permanent Secretary in the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development mislead the public, as by prolongation then did the promoters of the Bujagali hydro electric plant, that the new facility will produce 250 MW of power when in his own assessment only 170 MW could be generated.
Onek during his reign at the Ministry of Energy enjoyed a contentious relationship with his top officials who often contradicted him in fact, and had repeated run ins with the top echelon of the Energy Regulatory Authority, which is a matter now pending before court.
Ugandans have been keenly waiting for Bujagali to come on line later this month and bring relief to constant load shedding, a phrase used for the induced black outs across much of the country due to lack of generating capacity. Oneks outburst, in which he also suggested that the President had been misled, caused consternation amongst onlookers it was reported and at least one MP in regular contact with this correspondent suggested in a late communication that Onek should have listened to what parliament told him, to step aside to make way for a full investigation on the bribery allegations, but now he really made things worse. He has a bone to pick with the Permanent Secretary in that ministry because he repeatedly told him off when he was in Energy, a well known fact, and now seeks cheap revenge. His reputation is now in more tatters than before.
Reactions are awaited over Oneks allegation on sharp increases in the cost of power from Bujagali and the limits on power generation in coming days, as the full impact of his gaffe becomes apparent. Watch this space.
QATAR AIRWAYS HITS THE TARMAC WITH BOTH FEET RUNNING
When QR 536, an Airbus A320 in a two class configuration with the latest inflight entertainment equipment and OnAir internet connectivity on board, landed at Entebbe International Airport for the first time on a scheduled flight a few minutes ago, there was the traditional water arc created by the airports fire engines as a befitting welcome to the latest international, and first ever five star airline coming to The Pearl of Africa.
Civil aviation officials were seen smiling and nodding to each other as they, first and foremost, celebrated their success in making daily flights from Doha to Entebbe possible and facilitating traffic rights while invited guests and a few media representatives were busy watching the plane taxi to its parking position before ground handling staff were swarming the plane to put the chokes under and wheel the staircases to the doors.
Qatar Airways and Qatar government officials as well as ordinary passengers then emerged from the aircraft to be met by CAA personnel and Ugandan government officials.
Meanwhile in the city of Kampala, some 45 kilometres away, were preparations in full swing to celebrate the arrival of Qatar Airways and CEO Akbar Al Baker will hold a press conference on Thursday morning at the Kampala Serena Hotel to meet local, regional and international media representatives.
The Qatar Airways office is presently swamped with requests for their incredible launch fares, starting at 99 US Dollars return, PLUS taxes while European and Asian destinations cost just a hundred dollars more at 199 PLUS taxes, to fly as far as Beijing. Available for the launch week the fares have caused a run of sort by opportunistic travelers seeking best bargains deserting other airlines by the droves, and the Qatar Airways staff in Kampala is of course all optimistic that their inflight quality and in particular the service on the ground in transit in Doha will soon convince travelers that they have found a new gem worth sticking to. Watch this space tomorrow for details from the press conference and answers to questions which will be fielded to the Qatar Airways CEO.
KWS BOOSTS AERIAL CAPACITY WITH PURCHASE OF A BELL 407 HELICOPTER
Kenya Wildlife Service last week took delivery of a brand new Bell 407 helicopter at their air wing base at Wilson Airport Nairobi, substantially boosting their internal capacity for aerial surveys and rapid deployment of personnel to deal with critical incidents.
While taking delivery of the new rotary bird KWS Executive Director Julius Kipngetich also announced that a Cessna 208 Caravan would be purchased next and that by 2015 each national park should have a light aircraft based on site at park headquarters to facilitate immediate aerial responses to reports and incidents of poaching, to carry out aerial surveillance and monitoring of the game and facilitate emergency evacuations, all aimed to improve operations and cut down on response times. Visit www.kws.org for more details and information about Kenyas national parks and game reserves under KWS jurisdiction or follow them via @KWSKenya on Twitter for their latest updates and news feed.
KENYA AIRWAYS JAMBO JET TO BRING SHOCK AND AWE TO RIVALS
Kenya Airways own new low cost carrier is likely to take to the skies by late Q2 or earlyQ3 according to an announcement made by Dr. Titus Naikuni, KQs CEO and Group Managing Director.
The airline will commence operations with at least some planes of its own, thought to be in an all economy configuration but could also get access to KQs planes, likely the Embraer fleet, to complement operations in the early stages.
The news, given during the media and investors briefing earlier in the week, sent cold shivers down the spine of the competition, already reeling from KQs determined re-entry last year of the domestic market, where a bitter battle has been ensuing for dominance on the routes between Nairobi and Mombasa and Nairobi and Kisumu. While presently only one daily flights of Kenya Airways connects Nairobi with Malindi, for the time being one should add, Mombasa has seen the shuttle come back with up to 10 flights a day between the two cities and Kisumu is being served three times a day. Privately owned airlines on these most important domestic jet routes saw in addition to this capacity increase the challenge to their own market shares via the fares, as KQ introduced stand by fares and a range of low fares not just competing with other LCC operators but on occasions undercutting them. A superior loyalty programme for frequent flyers added to the attraction of flying with Kenya Airways and the arrival on the scene next year of Jambo Jet will only fuel the cut throat competition on key domestic routes.
Expectations are now that the new airline will enter the market with a combination of shock and awe, by offering state of the art aircraft, a well oiled operations machinery to back them up and extraordinarily low fares, though little if any inflight service or amenities.
When they closed Flamingo a few years back it was a failed experience then and their distribution in the market and using turboprop aircraft was not taken up by travelers the way they had hoped. I think they learned lessons from that failure and even chose another name, signaling a fresh start, a serious start. There are lots of ways Jambo Jet can save money in a range of areas. That allows lower fares. Jambo is aimed to increase group market share for KQ but also to disturb other operators and for them it will be a fight for survival from month to month. I think when this venture takes off it will come with a big bang, very low fares and attractive departure times, good marketing and the backing of a big organization. Yes, it will cause shock and awe in the market amongst competitors and travelers said a regular source when discussing the options Kenya Airways had with the entry of Jambo Jet. Watch this space over the coming months for more emerging news and how the new battle for the skies over Kenya will unfold.
KENYA AIRWAYS ANNOUNCED HALF YEAR RESULTS GIVES PREVIEW OF FUTURE PLANS
The Pride of Africa was in the news again yesterday when presenting the half year financial results and giving a broad investors preview and review over the months coming and past. Data given showed significant advances in most areas though words of caution over the outlook were also voiced, a fair warning considering the level of fuel prices and the weakening global economy as a whole.
Notable developments mentioned were the net increase in fleet size from 30 in 2010 to now 33 in 2011, the additions being Embraer E190 jets, of which three more are due to join between May and September 2012, while the departure of an older B767 was made up by the arrival of a B737-300, according to the statistics provided to this correspondent by KQs corporate communications manager Chris Karanja. That said, considering pending aircraft orders for the B787 9 in total with 4 more options and of Embraer aircraft the airline recently committed to, the fleet size will in coming years nearly double. Along this line it was also announced that Kenya Airways would send a further 100 pilot trainees to their preferred South African but also other aviation schools to have enough young pilots ready when the new planes get delivered.
It was also announced that new passenger lounges would be opened in December 2011 while hope was expressed that by December 2012 the new terminal 4 at JKIA would be ready and finally provide relief to passengers, of Kenya Airways but also other airlines, from the eternal congestion the airports suffers from. Conservationists will also be happy to learn that KQ has committed 1 million Kenya Shillings towards the establishment of a wildlife conservation centre at Hells Gate National Park.
Additional attention was generated over the presented preview of airport infrastructure developments, which are long overdue and have choked KQs expansion plans through sheer physical restrictions on the number of parking positions, lounges available, terminal spaces and the absence of a second runway to ensure uninterrupted operations in case of one runway becoming unserviceable.
(Graphic courtesy of Kenya Airways)
Observers however immediately jumped on the 2018 date for the second runway and many pundits agree with this correspondent that this project must be brought forward to between 2014 and 2015, to facilitate not only the growth of Kenya Airways but also facilitate the coming to Nairobi of a host of international airlines eyeing flights to Kenya but being put off by operational constraints, lack of facilities and the absence of runway redundancy at East Africas most important aviation hub. Said on when discussing the presentations yesterday: It is a simple fact that Kenya Airport Authority has overslept. The ongoing improvements and expansion should have happened years ago, should be ready by now. Passengers complain about the congestion in the terminal, aircraft parking space at peak times is in short supply and this is not the picture Kenya wants to give to people arriving on business or for a holiday, or when leaving for home. The second runway must be brought forward because 2018 is too far away and a single runway will be chocked with traffic, and one little issue will be a bad day for all concerned when traffic has to go to Mombasa or Entebbe.
Watch this space as more information becomes available in coming months and be sure to read updates right here.
MORE CHARTERS FOR MOMBASA WITH INAUGURAL FLIGHT FROM MOSCOW
The tourism fraternity in Kenya and especially at the Kenyan coast has taken fresh hope during this period of uncertainty when it was reconfirmed that the first of a series of weekly charter flights from Moscow / Russia would be landing at the Moi International Airport in Mombasa this Friday.
Russia is an emerging market for Kenya and was in recent years given some serious attention by the Kenya Tourist Board and the private sector, to attract more tourists wishing to escape the harsh Russian winter and spend quality vacation time at the sun soaked white beaches of the coast or else see Kenyas spectacular wildlife in the national parks while on safari.
Russia has as a result of growing economic prosperity become a leading outbound travel nation and it will be a validation of KTBs marketing strategy to see this new charter bringing hundreds of visitors to Kenya, and hopefully to the wider region too, besides being reassuring that the various scare tactics have not prevented this venture from going underway. Happy Landings!
ROYAL JORDANIAN HEADING TO NAIROBI
Information was received overnight that Kenya will soon see another airline making regular visits to Nairobi. Starting on 16th December will Royal Jordanian commence flights to the Kenyan capital Nairobi, initially 4 times a week every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday with the respective return flights taking off from JKIA in the early hours of Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday. Royal Jordanian will be using an Airbus A319 on the route in a two class configuration. The new connection will open up further opportunities for trade and doing business between Jordan and Kenya, if not East Africa as a whole and will in turn allow also for visits to parts and areas of the Holy Land located in what today is the Kingdom of Jordan. Travelers using Royal Jordanian should use the opportunity to stop over in Amman and visit the ancient city of Petra and capture some of the history made in this part of the world.
This move is preceded by the launch of flights to Lagos which will commence on December 03rd, initially served twice a week using an Airbus A330. Happy Landings and welcome to the African skies.
KQ STICKS TO ITS GUNS AS SOME HOTELIERS COMPLAIN ABOUT DOLLAR FARES
Rumbles from within the tourism industry are slowly emerging over Kenya Airways recent introduction of US Dollar based domestic fares, which however, as on breaking the news immediately said here, can be paid with the equivalent of Kenya Shillings at the exchange rate valid on the day of the transaction.
We need to be able to offer packages to the coast for instance at a fixed price in Kenya Shillings and clients do not like the uncertainty to be asked for extra money in case the shilling goes down against the dollar, and we also do not like to give the impression we are keeping clients money when the shilling goes up and they have paid a certain amount for their round trip to say Malindi or Mombasa. We were not asked for our opinion and yet a lot of clients fly to the coast because we sell them domestic packages. Maybe Kenya Airways could rethink this decision said a periodic source from Nairobi when asked for an opinion. Meanwhile though has a regular source from Embakasi, as usual on condition of anonymity, insisted it was the right thing to do under the circumstances: and our international fares have always been given in dollars and travelers had to use their shillings at the days exchange rate to pay, if they had not changed into dollars already. The domestic market is a difficult one and we last year and this year made phantastic offers for stand by tickets and for prebooked and prepaid fares. It is the circumstances, the cost of fuel which is in dollars, which made the airline reconsider. Depending on where the shilling goes, our passengers may have to put in less shillings so they can even benefit.
The emerging arguments however also show that the decision was not universally welcomed and other airlines flying on the main jet routes, like JetLink, have vowed to retain a shilling fare come what may, as they are trying to claw back market share through such means too. Watch this space.
WILD CAT STRIKE BY AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL CONTINUES TO IMPACT ON FLIGHTS
The unauthorized slow go and wild cat strikes by members of the Kenyan air traffic control has led to a series of flight delays impacting on thousands of passengers. This country is at war with Al Shabab and air traffic control and surveillance is crucial to national safety and security. This is not the time to deny our country such services and endangering the country. Our airspaces must be monitored now at all times as our own airforce flies sorties into Somalia to hit Al Shabab bases and what the air traffic controllers do right now amounts to high treason in a situation of war a regular aviation source from Mombasa claimed in a communication yesterday, while confirming that tourist charter flights were also affected. He continued to say: We are now fighting the bad image of the abductions, of the threats by Al Shabab against our country and the tourism sector is working overtime to correct impressions that Kenya is not safe. And here is a group of greedy individuals, used by union officials with their own agenda, to start slow gos and wild cat strikes instead of having the safety and well being of our country at heart. Were they not told by court to halt any action and go back to negotiate? It is unpatriotic to the highest degree and if that is the picture our unions give, then they are really in need to be taken on by new legislation and regulations that they cannot bring our country to its knees, for sure not when we are at war.
Other industry stakeholders have also cautioned of the potential impact of a wider ATC strike, some recalling the consequences of strikes aimed against Kenya Airways, and according to a regular source in Nairobi this comes at a bad time. We are going to WTM now and with all the issues surrounding Kenya right now, the union is trying to deliver a killer blow to our sector. I think, and so to many of my colleagues, that our unions are out of control and need a dose of medicine which Margaret Thatcher gave to the British unions way back when those tried to turn the UK into a socialist welfare state. Enough is enough, parliament should get working on that to introduce limitations on strike action when it affects public safety and that the two sides, employers and unions be compelled to go into arbitration and forego strikes.
Kenya tourism is still headed for a record year of arrivals and revenues, inspite of such self inflicted woes and the external situation forced upon them by Al Shabab, and when the year closed you can sure find the results and statistics right here. Watch this space.
AMADEUS TEAM UP WITH KENYA AIRWAYS, IBERIA AND GTTP TO SUPPORT SCHOOLS
In a remarkable partnership did Amadeus East Africa join hands with Kenya Airways, Iberia and the Global Travel and Tourism Partnership to bring 100 computers to 18 secondary schools and village polytechnics. This initiative is aimed to support the roll out of GTTPs Kenya curriculum which was designed to bring knowledge about tourism to the schools and vocational institutions across the country.
Amadeus, arguably the leading global distribution network, had donated the computers sourced from across Europe and Iberia and Kenya Airways offered free uplift to Nairobi, from where GTTP organized the distribution to the beneficiary institutions. Notably, although in different airline camps, Iberia now merged with British Airways and flying under OneWorld colours while Kenya Airways belongs to the competing SkyTeam, it shows that such differences do not prevent a successful cooperation for a common good, a highly applaudable spirit! The four partners had this to say on completion of this valuable project:
In Kenya, there is no tourism curriculum in schools, commented Joseph Okello, Director at GTTP-Kenya. Tourism is taught as a Geography lesson for only one week in the final year of high school under the local national curriculum. We believe there is an overwhelming need to teach tourism and travel at the secondary school level in Kenya. This would increase general public awareness especially of its positive impact and the role of the host community in tourism.
Titus Naikuni, Group Managing Director & Chief Executive, at Kenya Airways, explained: Kenya Airways does more than transportation. We are keen on partnering with communities. We continuously seek ways to support worthwhile initiatives that contribute to the positive transformation of the African continent. The partnership with Amadeus and Iberia are such initiatives. Kenya Airways will always play a role in the strategic and sustainable development of Africa because we believe sustainable development is a natural prerequisite for business and the development of the people of Africa.
Luis Díaz Güell, Director of Corporate Communication of Iberia, said: We are proud to participate in this initiative, which is part of one of the pillars of the CSR strategy of Iberia, which supports using the tourism industry as a mean for sustainable development in developing countries.
Amadeus draws the contribution from its Global PC Bank, set up to donate hardware towards social development projects. The company also provides mentorship to participant students in the GTTP-K programme, as well as real-time industry information to students and teachers.
Amadeus is always keen to add value and be useful at the community level. We place our sector, travel and tourism, at the core of our CSR strategy because we know we can make a difference, utilising our business resources and expertise to support sustainable development. The GTTP programme is an excellent way for students to broaden their training horizons -it opens up a promising future for their careers in a sector which is crucial for the Kenyan economy, said Claes Berggren, General Manager, Amadeus East Africa.
SERENGETI SIMBA LODGE OPENS NEAR IKOMA GATE
Sitting majestically on top of a kopje, one of the distinct rock formations found across the Serengeti National Park, the new Serengeti Simba Lodge offers a 360 view into the national park and the Grumeti sector and reserves. Located just outside the Ikoma gate, the lodge is built on one of the first wildlife management areas, a new system which is aimed to enable local communities living near or along the border of a park to also benefit from tourism. (see recent article on USAID gives 6 million US Dollars to Conservation) A dozen suites under canvas have been put up, driven by solar panels which provide power and hot water to guests to minimize the lodges carbon footprint, while generous spaces are available for visitors in the public areas.
Even the pool is set in such a way that gameviewing is possible from the cooling water, looking across the wilderness in the surrounding valleys and plains which are filled to the brim with game when the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebras moves through the area, but there is always enough resident game around the lodge to allow tourists tick their list of the must see animals.
The lodge can be reached through their website marketing
More information is on Facebook page via www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=549434645#!/pages/Serengeti-Simba-Lodge/190656567640189 and comments by the early bird guests who stayed at the lodge during the soft opening phase can already be found on TripAdvisor: www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g293751-d2166634-Reviews-Serengeti_Simba_Lodge Serengeti_National_Park.html
(Pictures courtesy of Annie Birch, Marketing, Serengeti Simba Lodge)
In a related development it was also learned that Melia Hotels and Resorts, Spains largest hotel group, has very recently opened a new resort on the main Zanzibari island of Unguja, their first property in Tanzania. Located in the North-East of the island the new resort sits reportedly on some 100 acres of ground and more details will be available here in coming weeks when all particulars have been established.
PRINCE CHARLES ARRIVES IN TANZANIA TODAY
Ahead of the Golden Jubilee, when Tanzania is celebrating its 50th anniversary of Independence from Britain later this week, will Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall visit Tanzania and according to available details tour the country before representing Her Majesty the Queen on Independence Day.
On the visiting programme are trips to Zanzibar and to Arusha and it was confirmed that the heir to the throne will use his presence in the country to discuss matters of mutual concern and interest with such bodies as the British Council, VSO, the WWF and a number of NGOs, the latter two undoubtedly briefing him on the ongoing assaults by the Tanzanian government on conservation areas like the Serengeti, Lake Natron, the Eastern Arc Mountains, the Selous and the Tanga Marine National Park at Mwambani.
Relations between Britain and Tanzania are cordial but not free of controversy and it is hoped that the generally outspoken Prince will divert somewhat from the script the High Commission and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have prepared for him and address some of his own concerns vis a vis the development projects impacting on some of the globally most renowned national parks and tourism attractions, given that he himself is known to appreciate intact nature and of late President of the WWF UK chapter.
Meanwhile though it is a hearty congratulations to the people but also the government of the United Republic of Tanzania on the occasion of the mainland Tanganyika attaining independence 50 years ago.
USAID GIVES 6 MILLION US DOLLARS TO CONSERVATION
The US government, through its international development agency USAID, has committed 6 million US Dollars to support a programme aimed to expand the concept of Wildlife Management Areas for communities living next to national parks and game reserves across the country. The move is hoped to provide opportunities for such communities to get into the tourism game and while not fully fledged conservancies will encourage increased tree planting, conservation and protection measures so that tourists can be attracted to visit.
At the project launch it was pointed out that over 30 such wildlife management areas are already in existence while 19 are legally recognized already.
Conservation groups hailed the move as it will create important buffer zones between the national parks and the more populated and farmed areas nearby and create ownership amongst the people living there by being able to tap into the income derived from tourism.
SHILLLING DROPS AGAIN, CAUSES FEAR FOR CURRENCY VALUES ACROSS THE REGION
After a rally on the currency markets, induced by concerted central bank action last week, when the Tanzania shilling reached into the mid 1.600 hundred territory albeit briefly, has the slide and rot returned with a vengeance. Earlier in the week did the Tanzania Shilling fall back deep into the 1.800 range, though not to the previous record low of 1.853 against one US Dollar, after corporate clients took advantage of the release of US Dollars by the Tanzanian central bank to buy their requirements at nearly 200 Shillings less than just days earlier.
Fears emerged across the region that this trend set in Tanzania may be repeated across in Kenya and Uganda where the currencies also enjoyed an upward trend, and financial market analysts are watching with keen interest to see how this will play out after the Kenya and Uganda shillings too recorded improvements by about 10 percent, wild swings by any standards in any country around the world.
Tourists were bewildered though when changing money as witnessed yesterday as they had only days earlier received substantially better rates, in their favour that is, and at least one argument with a currency dealer was seen to unfold as the tourist thought he was being cheated out of his money. The joy of some clearly though is the bane of others as traders across the region are faced with impossible choices to make about importing goods ahead of the crucial Christmas season, the busiest time of the year for many of them, but with these currency fluctuations it is now anyones game to figure when to buy dollars and pay for shipments. One thing is clear though, the price for all of this is coming down on consumers who will find their Christmas shopping this year as expensive as it has ever been and tighter fists, when it comes to spending will be accompanied by tighter belts all round.
PRECISION AIRS IPO EXPANDED BY A WEEK
In what some financial analysts called a stunning development overnight has it been learned that Precision Airs IPO, which by all accounts had ended last Friday with results due out by November 11th and trading to commence on December 08th, has been extended by another week. The news was confirmed also through a statement made by the CEO of the company who apparently announced that approval for another week of sales had been obtained through Nairobis Capital Markets Authority, where applications could now be received through participating financial institutions. No mention was made about any shares being sold through the Uganda Securities Exchange or if any approval had been sought for such an exercise through the Ugandan financial markets regulator.
Financial pundits jumped on the news, reading their own interpretation into the sudden and certainly unexpected prolongation of the IPP period, which might in fact indicate that the take up of shares has not been as expected, although a regular source close to the company tried to put a brave face on it and explain that other East African countries can now also buy shares after Tanzanians had their first call. Only days prior to the IPO taking off had a Nairobi based international audit and financial consultancy firm termed the share value of TShs 475 per share as overpriced, drawing a sharp reaction at the time from the company. Watch this space for further announcements on the 18th of November, when the share sales / application results will be announced and the 15th December when the shares will now be traded for the first time.
RWANDAIRS SECOND B737-800 ARRIVES TWO JOURNEYS, ONE MEETING
The arrival of a brand new aircraft is always a big event for any airline, and receiving two brand new and state of the art planes for a relatively small airline like RwandAir is a particularly special event.
Having grown from an almost paper airline a few years ago into an ambitious regional aviation force, WB now owns and operates already 7 planes, including the first two ever B737-800 with Boeings new Sky Interior layout, which gives more space, more light and almost the impression to be in a wide bodied aircraft. RwandAirs fleet now comprises one Bombardier Dash 8-100 turboprop, two owned Bombardier CRJ200 jets, two leased B737-500 aircraft featuring a two class configuration and now the lastest New Generation B737-800s.
The growth in the fleet allowed for a growth in destinations, and from the two destinations Nairobi and Entebbe some years back the airline now serves Dubai via Mombasa, with full traffic rights, Johannesburg, Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro, Bujumbura, Brazzaville and Libreville, besides a growing domestic network which has upon its launch taken off in leaps and bounds.
New destinations are coming on line shortly, like Lagos / Nigeria and more frequencies are being introduced on literally all routes.
But back to the story of the two journeys and the one meeting.
RwandAirs second B737-800 left the Boeing facility on Thursday the 27th of October and travelled across North America and half the Atlantic before making a fuel stop in Keflavik / Iceland. The second leg of the journey, identical to the ferry flight of the sistership a few weeks earlier, then routed across Europe to the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul for a night stop. As 9XR-WG the registration of RwandAirs latest bird, flew into Turkey, I got on the way to witness the event by leaving on the scheduled evening flight from Entebbe to Kigali, surprised to see a B737-500 being used on the route. The Bombardier Dash 8-100 is a regular visitor to Entebbe and takes just under one hour flying time, while both the more regular CRJ200 and the occasional B737 visits cut flying time between the two airports to just over half an hour, barely enough time to serve drinks and the customary Macadamia Nuts before one arrives.
Immigration and customs processing in Kigali is truly fast track and I headed to my hotel in Kigali as the ferry crew of three senior RwandAir captains must have reached their hotel too in Istanbul.
(The smiling ferry crew which flew the new bird from Seattle via Keflavik and Istanbul to Kigali after arrival at Kanombe International Airport)
Friday the 28th dawned eventually, with clouds across the sky but some of the morning showers would not dampen the mood of the RwandAir staff who put final touches to the arrival ceremony, which was to greet the latest addition to their fleet of aircraft. The party tent was up and ready for dignitaries and guests and journalists and travel writers and TV crews and while we studied the RwandAir press information the aircraft had taken off from Istanbul and was heading for Rwanda.
Airport security, normally stern and almost forbidding, had put on a smile too for us invited guests who on arrival at the airport were ushered into the recently opened Pearl Lounge, otherwise available for First and Business Class Travellers, Frequent fliers or against a cash prize of 25 US Dollars, giving comfort and a bit of peace and quiet for weary passengers. Not on that day though as the assembled media pack made the most of the snacks and free drinks, while a few of the more dedicated ones sought interview partners and exchanged the latest in aviation news.
(RwandAirs new bird performing a fly past over the runway of the airport)
Time flew by and with half an hour to go we were led to the tarmac to see close up and personal the arrival of the new aircraft. Traditional dancers and drummers were lined up, the red carpet rolled out and soon the landing lights appeared in the distance, signaling the near end of the long journey from Seattle to Kigali.
The crew performed a traditional fly past over the runway, did a 360 and then lined up for landing at 3 pm sharp to the applaus of all present and the welcoming shower by two fire engines lined up at the entrance of the taxi way, creating an arc of water through which the plane came in.
A beaming John Mirenge, Chief Executive Officer of RwandAir, emerged first from the plane after the doors had been opened to cheers from the crowd, a sign of both affection and respect for the man at the helm of an airline which is now considered the fourth largest in the wider East African region after Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and Precision Air.
(The state of the art cockpit featuring computer screens rather than the old rotary dial instruments)
A brief tour of the new aircraft was permitted, showing off the cabin layout, the leather seats and the Sky Interior created by Boeing as the latest innovation for inflight comfort. The smell of the aircraft struck immediately, of the newly installed leather seats, the new carpets, in fact quite similar to getting into a brand new car for the first time, just better as a RwandAir staff promptly commented. It should be mentioned that Rwandan motives and designs are incorporated in the cabin design and were developed by a RwandAir team working hand in hand with Boeing staff to get the final product just right.
(Cabin layout in economy class, seats all in leather, and the extra comfortable business class with wide reclining seats making every passenger smile all complemented by RwandAirs excellent inflight service)
The guests moved soon to the party tent where a special RwandAir Ale, brewed in Seattle for the occasion, was served along the regular beers, before eventually the Champagne corks popped to formally toast to the success of the airline and many happy landings of the new aircraft.
John Mirenge and the State Minister for Transport addressed the assembled dignitaries and guests and attention was paid when the airlines CEO announced that over the next 5 to 6 months more aircraft would join the fleet, a sign of market confidence and a sign that the vision of RwandAir, and the new strategy, was being implemented step by step.
It was a happy meeting, myself coming from Entebbe, invited to witness the event and report about it in the global media I write for, and returning hither forthwith after the job was done, and the new bird of RwandAir, which came all the way from the West Coast of the United States. Two journeys, one meeting, only in Rwanda! Happy Landings to the new aircraft, both of them in fact, the crews and the passengers for many years to come!
NEW CONGO NILE TRAIL OPEN FOR BUSINESS
As of today, 04th November has Rwandas latest tourism product has been officially announced to the travelling public through media releases and the anticipated formal launch of the Congo Nile Trail is by the Rwanda Development Board will be on 25th November, with bookings already being accepted by tour operators and the offices of the RDB Tourism and Conservation division.
Stretching over virgin forest territory the new trail spans 227 kilometres and is lined by as many as 8 base camps, comprises two main trail routes and has at present four secondary trails branching off the main routes. The highest elevation along the trail is 2.630 metres above sea level and those doing the entire trail by foot, over the recommended 10 day period, will need to be reasonably fit to stand the at times challenging terrain. The trail however is for more than just hikers, as it can also be done by mountain bike in half that time or by using 4×4 vehicles which reduces the required time to as few as 3 days.
A 2 day cycling race will precede the trail launch to show just how much of an adventure the trail will provide to cyclists seeking special challenges and new venues, and it is understood that specialized safari operators will in fact offer such tours, including providing the bikes for the convenience of tourists from far away places. Visit pr and last but not least, get a little teaser by watching this video:
ICAO TRAINS RWANDAS AVIATION PERSONNEL
Staff of the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority but also from private airlines last week commenced a two week training course, organized by ICAO, to update information and bring personnel the latest news and skills they need in todays aviation world.
Earlier ICAO country audits had reportedly established deficits in some areas which were being progressively addressed through added training measures, in particular to strengthen regulatory oversight and improve the abilities of inspectors, streamline processes and adopt ICAOs latest recommendations and directives to ensure safe and secure airtransport.
Also participating is RwandAir with key staff which are understood to then pass on their course experience to fellow colleagues during in house training sessions.
The two week course was officially opened by the Minister of State for Transport Dr. Alexis Nzahabwanimana in the presence of the Director General of the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority and the ICAO Regional Representative.
Aviation safety in Africa is a mixed bag with some countries have amongst the worlds worst accident records and in the process making look the entire continent bad, which prompted ICAO to concentrate on measures to bring average air accidents and incidents down to global average levels over the coming years, concentrating in particular on strengthening oversight and enforcement amongst regulatory bodies.
NOVOTEL BUJUMBURA TO BECOME A DOUBLETREE BY HILTON
News have been confirmed over the weekend that Burundi is finally set to get its very first international branded hotel group enter the hospitality market. The Novotel, presently a 3 star property, is being taken over by Hilton and will after a substantial revamp and upgrading become a Doubletree, one of Hiltons brands covering the 4 star sector. The International Finance Corporation, the private sector lending arm of the World Bank, will offer a loan facility of over 5 million US Dollars which will be used to transform the presently rather drab Novotel into a new look Doubletree Bujumbura can be proud of. The overall project cost however is thought to be substantially higher, requiring additional sources of finance to be raised by the owners of the hotel.
Hilton is also said to be in the process of having a hotel constructed in Kigali, which would see the chain expand, finally, beyond Nairobi where they have been active since the 1970s but had little success of spreading the brand into the wider region, apart from an equally long established hotel in Addis Ababa.
ETHIOPIAN AIRLINES AIMS FOR AFRICAN TOP SPOT
Only a day after reporting here about Kenya Airways ambitions in the months and years ahead did information reach from a periodic source in Addis Ababa, putting Ethiopian Airlines also into the frame and into the race for top honours in Africa.
Already one of the continents leading airlines, and applicant member to join global industry leader Star Alliance in the not too distant future, Ethiopian has maintained its standing as a Pan African airline, connecting the world to Africa through their hub in Addis Ababa, and while not as media savvy as nearest rival Kenya Airways, has operationally moved ahead, almost under the radar of the media spotlight, to cement its place as a leading contender for the continents top spot. Leading in international destinations, the most of any African airline, they are neck on neck with Kenya Airways in terms of continental reach and the announcement by KQ to fly to every political and commercial capital in Africa by the end of 2013 has seemingly only strengthened the resolve in Addis to give as good as they get.
ET, according to information available, presently operates a fleet of 47 passenger and cargo aircraft and has a further 30 planes on order, including 10 B787 Dreamliners and 12 A350, which will allow the airline to phase out the aged B767 fleet while catering for growth via added frequencies and new destinations. Rival Kenya Airways currently operates a fleet of 33 aircraft, likely to double by 2020 while Ethiopians own forecast is looking at 70 aircraft within a similar timeframe.
Besides passenger operations ET is also leading in terms of their cargo operations and orders for dedicated B777F aircraft have been placed with Boeing to complement and eventually replace the existing freighter fleet presently comprising 5 cargo aircraft. In contrast here is Kenya Airways only just entering the dedicated cargo market with the arrival of a B747F this month and at least two additional B737F in early 2012.
Interesting enough, South African Airways or Egypt Air, two other leading airlines on the continent, are both members of Star Alliance, and with the expected entry of Ethiopian into Star will become the number one alliance in Africa, especially considering ETs start ups in West Africa also singing to the family tunes. Neither of them however can presently match Ethiopian in terms of reach and market strength and while both have ambitious expansion plans, Egypt Air still suffers of political events earlier this year while South African Airways, by any standards, is playing catch up with KQ and ET when it comes to connecting the continent.
Interesting times ahead for African aviation, also putting the notion to rest that ALL of Africas aviation ventures are moribund, unsafe and lack vision and ambition. Not in the case of Ethiopian Airlines for sure. Watch this space.
South Sudan News
PLANNING FOR NEW CAPITAL AWARDED TO CHINESE COMPANY
The newly independent Republic of South Sudan soon after Independence Day announced that the central government would shift to Ramciel, a location presently in the middle of nowhere and just over 100 kilometres north of Juba, the present location of GoSS but also state capital of Central Equatoria.
Pan China Construction was now reported from a source in Juba as having won the contract, beating the favoured South Koreans which had already done work for the government and were hopeful to capturing this valuable contract, likely also resulting in construction work after the planning process has been completed.
It is understood also that no contract has been signed yet while South Koreas Land and Housing Corporation already has a signed Memorandum of Understanding in place.
Notably has China been a staunch supporter of the regime in Khartoum from where it received much of their oil in exchange for alleged supplies of weapons and ammunition, in the face of UN sanctions, something however denied by both the regime in Khartoum and the government in Beijing. That said, it is understood from usually well informed sources that the Chinese are in the process of establishing a naval base along the north Sudans Red Sea coast, leaving one to wonder if geopolitical strategic considerations have played any part in the reported decision to let a Chinese firm plan the new capital, plans of which, including secure installations, could easily be leaked to their friends in the North. Watch this space.
HELICOPTER SEYCHELLES SECURES AOC, RESUMES OPERATIONS
Following a bounced merger with Zil Air and a restructuring of the company has Helicopter Seychelles finally secured a new AOC from the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority, granting permission last Friday to resume operations forthwith. Commercial flights reportedly resumed already giving tourists added options to do sightseeing flights or use the airlines helis for transfers from and to the international airport, which shortens the time otherwise needed to go by road on the main island of Mahe or else use the ferries to Praslin or La Digue, and boats to other islands further away. Helicopter Seychelles will be celebrating its 20th anniversary of its foundation next year. Happy Landings!
AMIRANTES NOW GONE BACK TOO TO ILFC
Air Seychelles has confirmed that their second B767-200, named Amirantes, has now also been flown back to the United States where it has now arrived at a designated airfield where the International Lease Finance Corporation keeps their planes. The lease, initially running until 2014, was upon mutual agreement dissolved allowing Air Seychelles to now plan in earnest for its future as the two older B767 models left behind three newer and more efficient B767-300, which remain on the fleet for the forseable future.
No details on the exact nature of the deal could be obtained from either side, as to what, if any penalties have been applied or if ILFC accepted a trade in against and upcoming future deal with even more fuel efficient and more modern aircraft than the present generation of B767s used by HM.
What is understood though is that the airline is undertaking an openminded full strategic review with all options on the table to map out its future survival in an increasingly competitive market, where by the end of this year 25 frequencies will be flown from Gulf airports to Mahe by Emirates, double daily from Dubai, Qatar Airways daily from Doha and four times a week with Etihad from Abu Dhabi.
Air Seychelles flies in code share with Air France 6 times a week between Paris and Mahe but also serves London, Milan, Rome, Johannesburg and Singapore, with a possible codeshare to China appearing more and more likely in the future. Watch this space
AND in closing, as in most editions, some interesting reads from further down south taken from The Livingstone Weekly, produced week in and week out by Gill Staden thank you.
The Tourism Industry has now been included with Information and Broadcasting. Some people commented that this was just a way of side-lining the tourism industry. However, it would seem that the Zambia National Broadcasting Corporation has taken the tourism on board and is keen to promote the industry.
Joe Chilaizya, commented that the merging of Tourism and Information meant that ZNBC had a role to play. He said that although the provincial capital of Southern Province was to move from Livingstone to Choma ZNBC would retain their offices in Livingstone so that it can promote the countrys tourism.
He also said that ZNBC was to be upgraded – more equipment bought and more channels.
The current programmes are 75 per cent foreign content while the local content is 25 per cent, we want to reverse the trend as advised by the Government.
Shearwater Rafters go the Congo
Shearwater Adventures has sent 80 rafters to the Congo to explore the opportunities for tourism activities. The team, led by Chairman of the Rafting Association of Zimbabwe, Cephas Moyo, will look at commercial viability and produce a video to be shown at the World Travel Market in London.
Development in Katima Mulilo
There is a huge development underway in Katima Mulilo. It has been on the go for some years now in fits and starts. It is called the Zambezi Water Front Tourism Park.
Phase One is expected to be finished this month and includes a campsite and VIP bungalows.
Phase Two (more bungalows, a conference centre, shopping mall, restaurant and crafts centre) and Phase Three (aquarium, amphitheatre) are still under construction.