RwandAir Stretches Its Wings to Europe, Asia with Airbus A330s

 - October 4, 2016, 9:00 AM

Six-year-old RwandAir has grown to become a major force among African airlines as the economy of its home country booms two decades after one of history’s bloodiest genocides killed more than a million people. Now, following its recent acceptance of its first widebody aircraft in the form of an Airbus A330-200 delivered direct from Airbus, RwandAir stands ready to open new intercontinental services to Europe and Asia.

The 244-seat widebody, powered by Rolls-Royce Trent 700 engines, contains 20 business, 21 premium economy—a new product in Africa—and 203 economy class seats. RwandAir has become the first airline in the East African region to acquire the A330-200. Airbus has received orders for 41 A330s from Africa and delivered 33 as of August.

RwandAir currently operates two Bombardier Q400s, two Bombardier CRJ900s, two Boeing 737-700s and a pair of 737-800s. The airline expects to take delivery of its second widebody, an A330-300, in November. It also plans to take two more 737-800s that same month and one in May 2017.

The new A330-200 touched down at Kigali international airport on September 28 after it flew for eight hours from Toulouse with a stopover in Entebbe, where the airline enjoys significant passenger traffic.

Plans call for the new aircraft to start service this month on its Kigali-Dubai route, where the airline now flies Boeing 737 narrowobodies.  

Briefing reporters in Toulouse, RwandAir CEO John Mirenge said that with the acquisition of the new widebody will allow his airline to compete globally. Mirenge said that after acquiring the A330-300, RwandAir would open new long-haul routes to Mumbai, Guangzhou, London and Paris. The airline is now holding talks with the respective civil aviation and airport authorities.

Mirenge told AIN that the management of RwandAir has also begun studying the Airbus A350-900, Airbus’s newest jetliner. “We have a plan to launch flight service to New York with the A350,” he said. The airline, which has grown at a rate of 20 percent every year since its launch, recently passed the IATA operational safety audit for the second time.  

As a start up airline, however, RwandAir has yet to turn a profit. Mirenge said the government of Rwanda is investing heavily in the airline with a long-term vision. “We are building for the future,” he told AIN.

RwandAir secured the financing for the two A330s, which cost more than $400 million, from the Eastern and Southern Africa Development Bank (PTA Bank). “PTA Bank is our strong partner,” said Mirenge. “This is not the first time we did business with them. Back in 2011 they financed our B737 purchase.” Named “Ubumwe” in the local language, or “unity” in English, the A330 received a warm welcome in Kigali, site of the 1994 genocide in which 1 million people perished. Healing from the worst human catastrophe in modern times, Rwanda has become one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, averaging 8 percent annual GDP growth.

After visiting the aircraft, Minister of Infrastructure James Musoni revealed the government’s plan to build a new modern international airport 50 kilometers outside of Kigali. Estimated to cost $600 million, the airport will initially have one runway and one passenger terminal and carry the capacity to handle 4 million passengers per year. The existing airport accommodates 1 million. The government of Rwanda recently built the first drone airport in Africa, in northern part of the country, that allows it transport medicine and other supplies to remote areas.      

Established in 2009 by the government of Rwanda, the national airline today serves 16 domestic and international destinations in Africa and the Middle East. It continues negotiations over a strategic partnership with Ethiopian Airlines.