National flag carrier RwandAir is enabling the country’s aspiring pilots, engineers and technicians to get off the ground through its successful partnership with Ethiopian Airlines Training School. Deputy CEO of RwandAir Jean Paul Nyirubutama explains how the internationally certified airline is boosting Rwanda’s air connectivity, its aim to increase annual passenger six-fold by 2020, and its focus on hospitality, safety and reliability.
What would you say are the driving factors leading Africa’s global investment attractiveness?
Africa is the next frontier. We have a humongous mass of exploitable land; our continent is conveniently located between other continents and enjoys access to abundant natural resources. If we add to that our young population, every factor is reunited to attract the world’s attention. Despite all the security and instability issues, one needs to look at the potential that 1 billion African workers represents to the modern international economy. Increasing infrastructure and trade will become necessities to harvest the benefits of this demographic expansion.
There are also huge opportunities in terms of intra-African trade. Every superlative you can find will not be an exaggeration when talking about the continent’s bright future. The whole point now regards how to get there. Regional integration is key, opening to trade is key. Africa must compete in terms of fair trade and must further work at creating a sustainable investment environment.
As an air transport company, RwandAir has a key role to play in terms of enhancing regional integration. How is RwandAir contributing to this inner-state collaboration?
RwandAir is an integral component of the government’s 2020 Vision. One of the objectives is to become a regional services hub. RwandAir is here to connect Rwanda to the rest of Africa. Being a landlocked country, we cannot afford to be an “air locked” nation. If we want to bank on tourism, we must be accessible. Therefore, we collaboratively work with the government to design a strategy aimed at expanding exports and easing continental trade.
Our first objective is to expand our operations by leveraging on our geographic position. The great advantage Rwanda has thanks to its geo-localization is the fact that we cover all of Africa under a five-hour flight radius. We need to leverage the position of Rwanda in terms of continental connectivity. Once that is done, we will expand our services across other continents such as Asia and the Middle East.
Experts are unanimous in saying that one of the key factors to attract FDI is effective and powerful infrastructure. What plans do you have in order to clench this demand?
Kigali International Airport has seen tremendous changes over the last two years. We have made major financial commitments in order to increase our capacity and to ameliorate our services to attract a larger number of passengers. We have renovated our launching pads, our terminals and our warehouses to address this demand. This airport has been upgraded in order to accommodate for Rwanda’s current circulation. To prepare for future circulation, the government is planning the construction of another international airport in Bugesera. The latter will initially host a yearly capacity of 1.5 million passengers but will eventually grow to accommodate up to 3 million passengers. That is the infrastructure that will give us greater operating ground.
Talking about RwandAir as a national carrier, we are going to expand our fleet from eight to 12 working aircrafts over the next nine months. The new planes are bigger and newer, and will allow us not only to double our seat capacity, but also to increase our flight destinations. This new fleet will allow for more passengers and more cargo transport. We will therefore contribute to the maximization of trade-related transportation.
In that regard, RwandAir is earmarking to increase passengers from 500,000 annually to more than 3 million by 2020. What is the main strategy to achieve this goal?
The first one is to serve and link more markets. Aviation is a very competitive industry so we must thrive for excellence. We are proud to operate a young fleet with outstanding safety records and aircraft quality satisfaction. As members of the IATA, what we work on most are service quality and flight timeliness. Safety and punctuality are the main areas we work on to attract passengers. Furthermore, RwandAir has adopted a service-oriented policy line in order to attract all types of passengers, regardless of their social class.
You are a certified IOSA operator and an IATA member airline. What doors do these memberships open?
The fact that we are officially registered in an international institution means that we can operate according to international standards. Over the years we have successfully renewed these requirements, proving to the world that we are a sustainable, safe and modern airline. This dedication to the highest standards of quality has opened doors to high-demanding clients. Furthermore, we have attracted numerous corporate and International organizations who trust and use our services for business and leisure.
Trade and Industry Minister François Kanimba told us that RwandAir is probably offering the best service in the region. How would you describe the RwandAir experience?
The RwandAir experience is first of all an embodiment of Rwandan hospitality. We are trying to portray the three main characteristics of Rwanda: hospitality, safety and cleanliness. To a large extent, we believe that what happens in the air is a message as to what happens in the country.
RwandAir is undoubtedly an ambassador for the country, but also a source of pride for the Rwandan community. What do you think RwandAir means to the Rwandans?
There is a clear attachment to the national flag carrier. But, more importantly, it also translates as a symbol conveying a message of ease of access and ease of movement for travelers, businesspeople and traders. At the same time, Rwanda did not have a history of aviation before the government invested in this airline. So we also have an impact on society as a whole. We employ 800 people, mostly young Rwandans. We are building our capacity in technical areas, which implies attracting young Rwandans to join us as technicians, marketers and pilots. We have provided young Rwandans aspiring to become air pilots the possibility to fulfill their dream.
RwandAir is known to work in collaboration with the Ethiopian Airline Training School. How are you taking advantage of the synergies brought about by this collaboration?
Ethiopian Airlines has been a strong partner both in terms of technical training and route planning. This joint effort is the true strength of Africa. We are not competing, we are partners. The African market is massive and to effectively serve it all, we must unite our forces. We are proud of this collaboration as it mirrors the positive relationship between our two countries.
How do you envision RwandAir in 2020?
By 2020, we want to become a midsize airline with a strong footprint. We want to connect Rwanda with long-haul destinations in Asia, Europe and the US. All of that based on a strong African network.