The Independent ( Kampala)
07. June 2013
RwandAir CEO John Mirenge has told the press briefing at the International Air Transport Association (IATA general meeting on June 3 in Cape Town, South Africa that Rwanda intends to make air transport as a key driver of its economic growth.
“We (RwandAir) only started three years ago and we are slowly moving into a definite market of the short and regional flights before looking at long-haul destinations,” he said.
South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe told the IATA meeting that innovation in the aviation industry has catalytic opportunities for growth in Africa.
“Improvement of Africa’s aviation is amongst the most important drivers of Africa’s development through trade between Africa and the rest of the world, driven in the main by the trade in agricultural and perishable goods, with the bulk of its commodity trade being transported by sea.
“Consequently, it is hard to imagine that we can transform Africa’s structural growth without a concomitant improvement in Africa’s aviation industry,” he said.
In its global outlook released early June, IATA said African airlines continued to be fragile, with passenger loads below 70% and profits of just $100-million for 2012.
IATA said the region’s airlines continued to face high operating costs, especially for fuel, which is on average 21% more costly than in other parts of the world.
Rwanda’s positive outlook is refreshing in a tough economic climate for African airlines, said a journalist who attended the press briefing.
Focus on costs:
He explained that Rwanda was rebuilding its international airport in Kigali with the aim of making it a hub for regional African flights.
“We are in the heart of Africa and almost every other African country is between three and four hours’ flight time from Kigali,” he said.
This, Mirenge said, dictated the purchase of smaller, narrow-bodied aircraft that could operate efficiently, taking between 50 and 120 passengers a trip.
RwandAir operates seven aircraft, all various models of Canadian manufacturer Bombardier Aerospace — the third-largest manufacturer of passenger aircraft after Boeing in the US and Airbus in Europe.
Bombardier Aerospace vice-president for Africa and Middle East sales, Raphael Haddad, said his company expected Africa to be a market for about 1,000 commercial aircraft in the next 20 years.
“We are seeing great growth and there is a definite opportunity for expansion within Africa as trade among African countries grows,” he said,
“Our aircraft operate very well in very hot environments without lessening the performance.”
Haddad said many African passengers still had to connect to neighbouring countries by flying long-haul flights to connect via Europe rather than direct flights that would be cheaper.
“So there is a definite need and market for a number of regional jet and turboprop aircraft,” he said.
Mirenge has also chosen to expand his fleet with aircraft from Bombardier. Mirenge said emerging African airlines need to be extremely cost conscious even though air travel is important for economic growth.
“In today’s aviation environment, costs are everything and we wanted a cost-efficient product.”
Bombardier, which is increasing its foothold in Africa with aircraft carrying between 30 and 150 passengers, says it has a 20% lower fuel burn than its competitors and improved fuel efficiency.
Bombardier expects to double its fleet in Africa over the next three to five years. Currently, 60 operators fly about 200 Bombardier aircraft on the continent.
RwandAir, which flew to six African destinations in 2008, now serves 15 destinations, and will add another three destinations to its coterie by the end of this year, including Accra, in Ghana, and Abidjan, in Côte d’Ivoire.
“Rwanda is one of the fastest-growing economies in Africa, with double digits over the past few years. We see ourselves as a key player. We’re hoping to grow particularly through sharpening our connections between East and West Africa,” Mirenge is quoted to have said.