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RwandAir expansion not aimed at taking on regional carriers

By Peter Muiruri | November 1st 2016

The expansion of Rwanda’s national carrier into the region is not aimed at creating undue competition with established airlines.

According to the country’s ambassador to Kenya, James Kimonyo, RwandAir will instead offer complementary services to larger airlines in Eastern Africa, such as Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.

The latter two airlines have ruled the regional skies for years, though loss-making Kenya Airways’ management and cash flow issues have taken a toll on its dominance. Ethiopian Airlines, on the other hand, is enjoying a good run that has seen it turn Ethiopia into an aviation hub.

Speaking during a ceremony to welcome the airline’s new Airbus 330-200 to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday, Mr Kimonyo said RwandAir does not have the capacity to present formidable competition to larger airlines.

“The airline fits well in our country’s vision of becoming a middle-income country in the next few years. As a landlocked country without advanced land-based transport systems, such as rail, the only way we can be connected to the outside world is through air transport. If that seems to create competition, that is not exactly our intention,” said Kimonyo.

He added that the revamped national carrier is a far cry from the “rudimentary” RwandAir Express that was formed in 2002.

“The idea of a national airline was far-fetched, but we have a president who believed in the idea of national airline and he has been its most ardent supporter,” the ambassador said.

He added that the airline’s expansion into the region is in line with selling East Africa as a single tourist region.

“Kenya as a market of 40 million is a small market. The same with Uganda and Rwanda as individual countries. However, combine it and we have a market of 150 million people. Let us make East Africa a viable trade entity before we can negotiate with the rest of the world,” Kimonyo said.

The airline’s local sales executive, Michael Otuoma, said the new aircraft — dubbed Ubumwe or unity, and with capacity for 244 passengers — is to be deployed on the Nairobi-Kigali route to end deficiencies caused by smaller-capacity aircraft operating on the route.

Rwanda’s economy is projected to grow 6 per cent this year on the back of a booming construction industry, especially in the hospitality sector. This year alone, the country opened a 2,500-seater conference centre and two five-star hotels, Radisson Blu and Marriott, in its capital, Kigali.

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