March 24, 2023

RwandAir Targets “Profitable” Intra-Africa Travel, Phase Out Small Regional Carriers

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RwandAir (WB, Kigali) plans to homogenise its current diversified fleet as well as phase out its Bombardier Aerospace regional jets and possibly De Havilland Aircraft of Canada turboprops, says Chief Executive Officer Yvonne Manzi Makolo.

The airline operates two CRJ900ERs and two DHC-8-Q400s.

“We have a very diversified fleet but want to rationalise it,” she said on an Aviadev Africa podcast on March 1, 2023.

“We are looking at expanding the B737 fleet and the A330 fleet. We are working on phasing out the CRJs and are discussing regional aircraft, the Q400s as well, whether to continue with that or to look for alternatives.”

Meanwhile, RwandAir took delivery last week of an ex-Avianca Airlines A330-200 on lease from Merx Aviation Finance. EI-HJJ (msn 1224) – to be reregistered in Rwanda as 9XR-WX, France, according to Flightradar24 ADS-data.

It is likely to be used to boost capacity on Rwandair’s London Heathrow, UK route, and to help launch a new service to Paris CDG, France, from Brussels Charleroi, Belgium.

Makolo said the A330 “will add more capacity for us given the fact that we split London from Brussels – it used to be tied to the Brussels route, but now we operate to London directly.”

“We need additional widebody capacity as well. We will soon be launching Paris tied to Brussels, and we also deploy the A330 on the Dubai International (UAE) route to support both passengers and cargo. So this will really be instrumental for us.”

Makolo added that RwandAir planned to gear up to daily frequencies to London in the winter 2023 season. The airline already operates a widebody fleet of two in-house A330s (one A330-200 and one A330-300), ch-aviation fleets advanced data reveals.

Its narrowbody fleet comprises one B737-700, four B737-800s, and one B737-800(SF) freighter, according to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module. It half-owns/half-leases its entire fleet.

Makolo said the A330 widebodies and the dedicated Boeing freighter had enabled the airline to grow its belly-hold and entire cargo operation, which has become a strong revenue stream.

She said: “We’ve seen double-digit growth in cargo revenue. The acquisition of the A330s has allowed us to grow that section. We transport a lot of fresh produce such as avocados, chillies, and fresh-cut flowers and other fruits and vegetables. The export sector has grown tremendously in Rwanda. According to the latest statistics, it has grown by about 1,000% since 2017, so we are really leveraging that. That’s the bulk of our exports to Dubai, Brussels, and London. We also move cargo between African countries, which was the thinking behind getting the cargo freighter – to support the belly freight operation. So we are expanding our cargo footprint. We’re very excited about that, and we will focus more on that going forward.”

Makolo said strategic partnership discussions with Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad International) were at an advanced stage.

“We are hopefully on the tail-end of that,” she said.

First unveiled in 2020, Qatar Airways plans to invest USD28 million for a 49% stake in the state-owned carrier. Alongside the airline deal is the development of Kigali’s new Bugesera airport, primarily funded by Qatar Airways.

“Discussions are ongoing. We are looking forward to concluding that. For the airline, it will be great to have a strategic partner like Qatar Airways and have a new airport with a capacity of seven million passengers in the first phase. That will give the airline the opportunity to really grow and really establish itself as a regional hub,” Makolo said.

RwandAir has long been following a regional hub strategy with aspirations to position Kigali as an alternative to other airports in the East African region. The bulk of its routes is intra-African, which are the most profitable, according to Makolo.

The intercontinental network includes London, Brussels, Dubai, Doha Hamad International (Qatar) and Mumbai International (India).

“We operate a hub-and-spoke model, and this works. It’s grown the airline at a fast pace since it started over 20 years ago. We intend to continue especially focusing on intra-African routes and really connecting Rwanda to the rest of Africa and Africa to the rest of the world,” she said.

“We have a lot of 5th freedom flights as well, and as they develop, we move them to point-to-point flights. It’s working well, and we will continue operating that way, starting with fifth freedom flights and building them into direct flights,” she explained.

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