The national carrier, RwandAir, expects to double its fleet to 25 planes over the next five years to better connect underserved markets in Africa and boost the continent’s reach to global destinations, including the Middle East, Yvonne Makolo, the airline’s chief executive has said.
Speaking to The National, Makolo said that the airline started expanding its fleet of 13 aircraft, taking delivery this year of three additional leased Boeing 737 narrow-bodies.
“I don’t think we need to move any farther than the African continent, this is the most underserved continent in aviation: We have 1.4 billion people and we only account for 3 per cent of global air traffic,” Makolo said, reacting on the current potential of African airspace.
Makolo, who was recently elected as the chair and first female leader of the board of the International Air Transport Association (Iata), said RwandAir serves 25 destinations, 20 of which are within the African continent to countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa. It also flies to cities in Europe and the Middle East including Paris, London, Brussels, Dubai and Doha.
The plan, she said, is to grow its route network to 39 destinations in five years, mainly within the African continent.
“The potential is within the continent and RwandAir is very focused on that, on seeing how we can open up and connect different African countries with fifth freedom rights, and how we can connect Rwanda to African countries, then connect the continent to the rest of the world.”
RwandAir’s fleet currently consists of Airbus A330 wide-bodies, Boeing 737s, Bombardier CRJ-900s and two De Havilland Canada Dash 8-Q400s.
Affordable air travel is still a “big challenge” in the African continent because aviation is still seen as a luxury, Makolo said.
“It’s heavily taxed, which is unnecessary, so that’s something that also needs to be addressed and we need to see more collaboration and partnerships within African airlines as well,” she added.
RwandAir aims to position Kigali as a regional hub and an alternative to other hubs in Africa, she said.
Asked about RwandAir’s growth plans for the Middle East with the imminent deal, she said the airline will focus on adding more flight frequencies to existing cities like Doha and Dubai and exploring new routes in the region.
RwandAir’s load factor – a measure of how well airlines fill available seats – for Dubai and Doha is at least 70 per cent.
“We will be focused on adding more frequencies, we’d like to see Dubai and Doha go to double daily,” she said.
Dubai is a “key” cargo destination for RwandAir, where it carries fresh produce, particularly avocados, to the emirate.
RwandAir’s extended codeshare with Qatar Airways allows its passengers access to 65 destinations via Doha.
Launching a single aviation market in Africa would boost connectivity, reduce fares and stimulate economic growth on a continent widely considered expensive and inconvenient to fly around.
“We just need to get on with it,” Ms Makolo said. “Let’s start with whoever is ready, let it be among the coalition of the willing and start, then hopefully when others see that it is working, they will join in.”
Makolo joined the aviation industry’s growing calls for governments to incentivise the production of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) at a larger scale.
SAF is expected to be the major contributor to the industry’s goal of net-zero by 2050 and Iata estimates that SAF will account for about 62 per cent of the industry’s decarbonization requirements.
Besides being in short supply, the fuel is also two to three times more expensive than jet kerosene, according to Iata.
“A lot more incentives need to be put into place for manufacturers to start producing enough SAF and then we can deal with the issue of affordability,” Ms Makolo said.
“For us African airlines, already operating is very expensive and now we need expensive fuel so that doesn’t make sense – we would go bankrupt.”