Rwanda’s agenda to extend its trade and bilateral relations far and wide will this month get a boost when the national carrier RwandAir launches its routes to Guangzhou China and Tel Aviv Israel, even as the International Air Transport Association (IATA) casts a gloomy forecast for African airlines this year.
Cabinet recently approved draft laws ratifying bilateral air service agreements (BASA) with 32 countries.
Among these include, Singapore, Angola, Spain, Benin, India, Morocco, with an official in RwandAir saying although the airline might not be able too fly there directly soon, they intend to exploit commercial arrangements with other airlines to fly to some of these countries through code-sharing.
Having not yet finalised the purchase of the aircrafts it had scheduled to use for these routes, RwandAir will use its existing fleet as it concludes the purchases by end of June.
The first flight to Guangzhou will be on the 18th of June 2019, while the airline will launch its first flight to Tel Aviv on the 25th June 2019.
“We shall operate these new routes with the existing fleet, we shall have to re-arrange our fleet and accommodate the Guangzhou and Tel Aviv routes as we finalise the process of purchasing new aircrafts” said Yvonne Makolo the CEO of RwandAir.
The airline will operate 3 flights every week for Kigali-Guangzhou and 3 flights to Tel Aviv, using the airbus A330 aircraft for Guangzhou and a Boeing 737-800 for the Tel Aviv route.
IATA mid-year projections indicate that just like in 2018, African airlines will lose $100 million in 2019, Middle Eastern airlines will lose $1.1 billion from $1 billion, while Latin American airlines will see their position improve from the $0.5 billion lost in 2018, to a profit of $0.2 billion.
Iata says despite lower costs and higher yields, profitability for African airlines is undermined by inability to achieve sufficient load factors.
Rwanda has defended its investment in RwandAir and its aviation sector as a whole, mainly because of its increasingly important part it has played in enabling other sectors.
Rwanda is at a time when deepening trade and bilateral relations with other countries on the African continent and beyond is a priority.
This is because it seeks to grow its foreign direct investments and exports which are critically needed to grow its economy, which explains RwandAir’s expansionary plans.
The airline is also set to launch direct flights to the US after it gets the final clearance.
The country made a strategic move to position itself as a tourism and MICE destination, a decision which seems to be paying off, however transport being key in tourism RwandAir opening a direct route in a frontier like China will go along way to support the sector.
The World Trade Platform (eWTP), an e-commerce signed into existence by President Paul Kagame and Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma last year to facilitate Rwandan traders access the Chinese market, has opened many trade opportunities for Rwandan traders, but transportation of goods to China has been an issue.
Rwandan coffee has already even made a name for itself on the Tmall International market place.
However local exporters of horticulture products like chilli and other fresh produce, which need to reach China when still fresh have faced difficulties in transportation, and many have been banking on RwandAir to start flights there for cheaper and faster means of transport.
“Currently, we are using ships to transport our goods, but we shall need cheaper and faster means for goods that are needed fresh like habanero sauce,” said Twahirwa Dieudonne, the managing director of Gashora farm, which exports horticulture products to China, who currently has a $2 million order to supply chilli sauce to Chinese clients.
The route to China also comes at the right time as Rwandan traders who previously got a lot of their products from Uganda, are now seeking to go to China themselves, after relations between the two countries escalated into closing the border.
The airline had scheduled to add two A330 neo planes, an Airbus A321LR and two new Boeing 137 Max 8 by this time to be deployed on its new African and international routes, but there seem to have been delays in the purchase process yet the time to launch the routes has come.
The plans to purchase the Boeing 137 Max aircrafts have been shelved by the airline after an Ethiopian airlines aircraft of the same make crashed killing all 157 passengers and crew members aboard shortly after take off from the capital Addis-Ababa in March.
“We suspended the delivery of the Boeings until further notice, we are still monitoring the situation and in the meantime we are continuing with purchase of other aircrafts” said Makolo.
RwandAir has plans to fly to 31 destinations in Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.
It recently launched flights to Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, which marked a new dawn in bilateral and trade relations between the two countries whose relations have been frosty for a long time.