Burundi Airlines: How It Will Change The Burundi Aviation Landscape

Burundi Airlines: How It Will Change The Burundi Aviation Landscape

The Bujumbura International Airport id the only international one in the country and the only airport with a concrete runway (measuring 3,600 meters)

The small African nation of Burundi has thrown its hat into the aviation game with the news that it will be launching a new national carrier called Burundi Airlines. But creating a new airline from scratch, especially in a country where resources are scarce, is no easy task.

For those who don’t know, Burundi is located between Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa. These larger neighbours’ have developed aviation industries and robust domestic economies. But it would be foolish to dismiss this smaller country, and its aviation ambition, as one of a providential agro-nation.

In this article, we will discuss the former and new national carriers of the country, and how this will impact aviation in the nation.

The first national carrier: Air Burundi

Founded in 1971, Air Burundi was a government-operated airline that focused on regional routes to Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda with its main base at Bujumbura International Airport. It had a different mix of aircraft over the years, from a Sud Aviation Caravelle to a Twin Otter DHC-6 to a Xian MA60.

However, in 2009, operations ceased due to technical and financial problems. Essentially its sole aircraft at the time, a 19-seater Beechcraft 1900C, had reached its maximum allowed flight hours without a major servicing. This maintenance check would cost the airline (and the country), one million dollars in the US and would be done in South Africa. Unable to make payments or find an alternative way to pay for the aircraft, the airline was effectively grounded. It did receive a new Chinese Xian MA60 years later, but the costs to resume services (even with this aircraft) had increased to $4 million US.

Since then, the airline has not operated and the citizens of Burundi have had to rely on other airlines to fly internationally.

The new national carrier: Burundi Airlines

Back on the 2nd of February, 2021, the Burundi government announced plans to launch a new national carrier called Burundi Airlines. So far few details (apart from the airline’s slogan) have been revealed (“Flying To Bridge Africa With The World”), but it is expected to go the same routes as nearby Uganda Airlines: a small fleet of regional aircraft like turboprops and a few jetliners, to allow for international flights (especially considering the slogan above says Africa to the world, not Burundi to neighbours). No date for the start of services has been announced yet.

“We can not say that the flight is for next week,” said Ms. Ndabaneze, the nation’s Minister of Trade, Transport, Industry, and TourismThe operation process will take a lot of resources of time and money”.

To create this new venture, the government will be merging the Burundian Airport Management Company (SOBUGEA) and the remains of its previous national carrier, Air Burundi. The majority of the shares will be held by the government.

The above tweet of the event reads “This [news] comes in the straight line of the government of Burundi who, since 2005, undertook reforms to restore the level of the deposit sectors and strengthen the capacities of public institutions in the transport sector”. 

The nation has not yet discussed how it would pay for this carrier, the aircraft, the staff, or more, but has not ruled out finding a suitable private partner (perhaps an international airline) to provide the right expertise. It is initially valued at $8.2 million US, which is large for the nation but, on the world stage, a bargain offer.

But what airport will the new national carrier fly to?

The Hub Airport: Bujumbura International Airport

Covered as only a minor footnote in our ‘Airports of Central Africa’ article, this airport is the only international one in the country and the only airport with a concrete runway (measuring 3,600 meters). It averages around 160,000 passengers per year, with services by Air Tanzania, Brussels Airways, Ethiopian among others.

The airport is operated by SOBUGEA and will be merged into the same entity that is the new airline. Because the airline will also be part of the airport authority, this will mean that it will face much lower landing fees, discounts, and even commercial advantages over its rivals. However, to boost airline services, it is unlikely that the government would allow its new home carrier inherent advantages (it would not want to price out major international carriers).

With news that Burundi will soon have their own airline, this will mean that the national airport will become much more connected to the world stage. One of the issues with African nations like Burundi is that without their own airline they cannot connect to major hubs like Dubai. Citizens or others wishing to fly to international destinations need to fly to other hubs, like Addis Ababa.

For Eways Aviation, this news essentially represents the launch of not only a new carrier but a whole new aviation market. One that we are excited to watch and can’t wait to see evolve into the one that the citizens of Burundi deserve.

The Airports of The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Airports of The Democratic Republic of the Congo

The N’djili Airport airport is the first of the big four airports serving the capital city of Kinshasa.

An airport is only as good as the airlines that fly to it, and in the last article, we addressed the latter in great detail covering the airlines big and small of the DRC. But these airlines require airports to fly to, and it’s time once again to dive back into the Democratic Republic of the Congo and discover its airport landscape.

According to IATA (The International Air Transport Association), there are 61 registered airports in the country with international codes (and many more regional landing strips). But only a few are key airports, four in fact, that have the passenger numbers that justify attention. Let’s start with the largest airport in the country.

N’djili Airport (N’Djili International Airport and Kinshasa International Airport)

The first of the big four airports are the N’djili airport serving the capital city of Kinshasa. It has a single 4,700-meter runway with a new terminal started in 2015 to expand operations up to one million passengers a year. Yet for the city size of fifteen million people, the airport is remarkably less traveled highlighting the large wealth gap. It is the home of Congo Airways and is served by local airline FlyCAA, and has flights from thirteen different international carriers such as Turkish, Air France, and Ethiopian. Unfortunately, not one of these international routes is operated by the state carriers due to the distrust of the local aviation authority, although attempts have been made in recent years to elevate the airports and the airlines to the level required by states such as the EU.

The airport has a new terminal under construction that will cover 40,000 square meters and expand the tarmac of the airport facilities by 75,000 square meters. The airport authority also plans to build a new 1200 space car park and construct a new parallel taxiway.

In addition to N’djili Airport, there is the small N’Dolo Airport in the city center that is used for private flights and domestic turbo operations.

Lubumbashi International Airport

To the very far south of the country is Lubumbashi Airport, which serves the city with the same name. With a long runway of 3,200 meters, It is remarkably well connected, with flights to Johannesburg, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, and Kusaka, as well as destinations throughout the congo. Part of the popularity is the airport’s unique location, its proximity to the second-largest city in the country, and, of course, access to the largest mines in the country. The resource industry powers this airport, and makes it popular for cargo and passenger operations – potentially the most lucrative in the country with even other regional airlines, like South Africa’s Airlink starting flights here.

“Airlink is looking forward to establishing direct services and flying our brand new colors – between the region’s important mining and minerals centers and supporting commerce, trade, and tourism between the two countries,” said Airlink CEO Rodger Foster in a press release in late 2020. “Our services to and from Lubumbashi will provide travelers with seamless connectivity onto Airlink’s new direct flights linking Johannesburg with Cape Town and with Durban”. 

Kisangani Bangoka International Airport

The city of Kisangani is served this airport and is located to the North West of the geographical center of the country. Because of this location, the city and its airport are the most important commercial hub for the greater Congo nation (especially along the Congo River, which Kisangani forms the natural upper limit). The airport itself has an undamaged runway of 3,500 meters and is served by not only FlyCAA and Congo Airways, but also Ethiopian Airlines who have recognized the value of this destination.

Goma International Airport

Goma Airport is located on the extreme east of the country right near the board of Rwanda. It is unique that its runway was partially destroyed by a lava flow – reducing it from 3,000 meters down to 2,000 meters in 2002. Aerial imagery as recent as 2017 showed that the airport had still not repaired the runway. This lava flow has separated the terminal building from the runway, and thus a temporary apron had to be built to connect the two. This lava flow has already contributed to the destruction of two planes – one when the lava initially flowed and another when a plane overran the runway (and into the now rock) in 2009. This hazard is truly remarkable and highlights the very unique challenges that aviation in the DRC faces.

The airport has been highlighted as a point of interest for the UN peacekeeping operations in the region and thus has been somewhat repaired for nighttime operations.

“MONUSCO will be moving its headquarters to Goma, which made it critical to upgrade the airport to the latest standards and make it functional for nighttime operation. Not only was the new airfield lighting system and rehabilitation of the airport important to our missions, but it will also have a big impact on the economic development in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said UN Project Manager Engr. Jacques Tshimpanga.

The airport is still served by the two carriers of the country, FlyCAA and Congo Airways. However, apart from UN charter flights, there are no other international services (thanks to the condition of the runway).

DRC has a Huge potential

Understanding the airport landscape of the DRC paints a startling picture of the aviation industry as a whole – one struggling to match its neighbors and serve its people. Without serious investment in its facilities, either through government investment, international aid, or a private partnership, it seems that tales like these will be commonplace yet. But at Eways Aviation, we’re sure that the RDC has the ability to become a strong African nation in the future, and the potential in terms of development of its aviation landscape is huge due to its size (it’s the largest country in sub-Saharan Africa), its population (105 million), and its incredible amount of natural resources.

The Airlines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Airlines of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

The flag carrier for the country is the adeptly named Congo Airways, created in 2014

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, or DRC, is the 2nd largest country in Africa and 11th largest in the world. Its vast landscape and strategic location, with 90 million people, makes it ideal for the aviation industry. However, as the country is still under-developed, the local industry is in its infancy and has a long way to go until it becomes the powerhouse its size would intend. The country used to be home to many private airlines zipping around the region, but recent crackdowns by the aviation authority (following several mechanical failures) have stripped the active airlines down to a core contingent. 

According to the CH-Aviation database, there are 22 registered airlines in the country, split up into charter operators, cargo airlines, and scheduled carriers. Let’s jump into it.

Congo Airways

When it comes to scheduled passenger airlines, there are two major players and a few minor regional airlines.

The flag carrier for the country is the adeptly named Congo Airways. Based out of the hub of N’djili Airport, it has four aircraft and flies to 10 destinations, two of which are international (South Africa and Cameroon). It was created in 2014 with help from Air France, to provide passenger travel for the many citizens of the country.

Currently, it uses two Airbus A320s it acquired from Alitalia for its international routes, and two Dash 8-400s for its local regional operations. To get a fantastic discount during the industry downturn in the mid-2020s, Congo Airways ordered two Embraer E-190E2s. They doubled down on the order in early 2021, with two bigger Embraer E-195E2s, for a combined price of $272 million US.

“We see an opportunity in our market and the crisis we are all facing for Congo Airways to emerge stronger – which is why we are not waiting to place this further order. These new jets will allow us to extend our passenger and cargo operations regionally to high-demand destinations such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Abidjan. As we prepare for future success, we will have the flexibility, and the right-sized, most efficient aircraft, to serve our customers as the market returns.” – CEO of Congo Airways Desire Bantu said in a press release.

The airline plans to slowly expand and offer more range of international destinations such as Luanda, Pointe Nore, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Lagos, and more – with even flights to Dubai and China on the cards once it acquires long-haul aircraft. On the cards is also a pair of Boeing 777 cargo aircraft (especially thanks to the increased cargo demand), with the airline flirting with acquiring them by 2022. 

“We have huge cargo demand, and although the market right now is mostly dominated by foreign airlines bringing in freight from abroad, we will work with the government to help stimulate exports, possibly from agriculture which is being relaunched,” 

Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation

The second-largest scheduled carrier in the country is Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation, or known as the Africa Aviation Company, with the marketing name, flyCAA. They are based at the same hub airport of N’dhili Airport and have a fleet of eight aircraft.

  • One Airbus A321-200
  • One Airbus A330-200
  • Two ATR 72s
  • Four Fokker 50s

The airline has also had a huge range of other aircraft over the years, from Mcdonnell MD-80s to Russian Antonov An-32s. The carrier actually has one wide-body aircraft, the Airbus A330-200 that it purchased in 2020 to rumoured fly long-haul routes to Europe (the airline has repeatedly denied such claims), but currently uses it for domestic operations (notably for cargo). Alas, because of the current crisis and the requirements for the carrier to operate it with a European-based crew, plans have stalled. While odd, this requirement is not unheard of, with TAAG Angola using the expatriate aircrew loophole to fly its 777s into the European route.

CAA is a domestic operator but has plans to resume operations to South Africa (its original service was cancelled in 2016 after it failed to renew its international traffic rights) in the future.

Which are the other airlines of the country?

But these two airlines are not the only two airlines operating in the country, there is a multitude of others that are still very significant.

  • Air Kasai, a Swedish firm, is a charter operator that flies from N’Dolo Airport. Currently, it has no aircraft in its fleet, but this may be more to do with a lack of passengers.
  • Air Katanga, a passenger charter founded in 1996 with a single EMB-135LR based at Lubumbashi International Airport. The plane is used on a 4x weekly flight to support a US-owned mine in the region, hence why its aircraft is a former regional American Eagle (American Airlines) aircraft.
  • Katanga Wings has a single MD-83 that it uses for passenger charter flights. It is based at Lubumbashi Luano International.
  • Mwant Jet, a scheduled passenger carrier has grounded its EMB-145LU until market conditions improve.
  • Swala Aviation, a passenger charter operator who has a single Dornier 228, which is useful to reach rural airports deep in the heart of the country

The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to three large-jet cargo carriers namely Gomair (based out of Goma) that has one B727-100F and one B737-300, Trans Air Cargo Service (who have the hub airport of Kinshasa N’Djili) that has two DC-8 freighters, and the largest of three, Serve Air Cargo (based out of Kinshasa N’Djili) with five B727-200s, one B737-300, and one B737-300. Serve Air Cargo was restarted in 2019 with the new fleet to meet the strict new government aviation certification requirements.

“This would allow us to have the personnel, assets, and a system in place to ensure the safety of its employees and the general public. It means we are using airworthy aircraft, maintaining operations manuals, accepting a system for training crew, and we have sufficient insurance coverage and a quality system to ensure that all applicable regulations are followed,” the Serve Air Cargo said in a statement 

The DRC represents one of the biggest potential aviation markets in the world. Alas, its poor economical landscape and lack of international connectivity have made it a parched landscape for those operators choosing to brave the new frontier.

What Are The Key Airports Of Central Asia?

What Are The Key Airports Of Central Asia?

Almaty International Airport

Many in the aviation industry consider Central Asia as the wild west of the industry. Stretching from the edge of Europe to the beginning of the far east, Central Asia is considered a hot spot for aviation because of its vast landscape, multiple countries, and for containing the flying silk road between the West and East. But what are the main airports of this vast region, and which will shape the future of the region?

Where is Central Asia?

Central Asia

Central Asia is comprised of several countries located in-between East Asia and Europe, below Russia, and to the north of the Indian sub-continent. While populous with 72 million residents, it is dwarfed by the countries surrounding it such as India and China and has fallen under the sphere of influence of the international powers that ring this region. It contains the countries of  Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan – all of which were previously occupied by the USSR during the Cold War but have maintained their independence for the last two decades.

Thanks to the size of these countries, airlines have been able to thrive and form the backbone of international travel in the region. They operate between major cities, although international borders have prevented any sizeable player from rising to be the market leader. Likewise, with multiple international airports, not one has yet become the region’s de facto hub (arguably like New York for North America, Dubai for the Middle East, or Singapore for Southeast Asia).

The following airports are ranked by passenger traffic in 2019, before the Coronavirus crisis.

Almaty International Airport

The most popular airport in Central Asia is Kazahkstan’s Almaty airport with 6,422,721 passengers in 2019. Located in the south of the country, it has two vast runways over 4,000 meters long and can accommodate nearly any aircraft (with only runways in military bases elsewhere in the country able to land more experimental aircraft). It is the hub airport of Air Astana, FlyArystan, and Qazaq Air. Fellow airline SCAT also operates to the airport but chooses to have its hub elsewhere.

This airport was recently sold as part of a privatization effort by the government, to TAV Airports. The firm plans to invest USD150 million to USD200 million into constructing a new terminal and to upgrade the capacity.

In a more in-depth article, we discussed how this airport and its sister airport of Nursultan Airport in Astana (below) make up a domestic pair with 10.2 million passengers (in 2019). As such, both airports see regular traffic between the two destinations with the majority of traffic traveling on short-haul aircraft. While Almaty is the bigger of the two (with over 50% of the traffic and a majority of the cargo operations), it shouldn’t be considered the end-all.

Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport

Nursultan Nazarbayev International Airport

In second place is another airport found in Kazahkstan, Nursultan Airport with 5,099,391 passengers in 2019. As mentioned above, it is the destination of many of the flights from Almaty and located to the north in the capital city of Nur-Sultan. It has a single runway of 3,500 meters and a newer international terminal that was built in 2005 with a VIP terminal that followed in 2015. This airport is also up for sale by the government, however, as of March 2021, it has yet to be sold.

Uzbekistan has the third busiest airport in the region, with the local authority noting 4,430,000 passengers in 2019. This airport is a bandaid solution to the aviation congestion in the country, with the government planning to move the airport to a bigger expanded facility by 2030 – although this plan, announced in 2012, has yet to gain any solid momentum. It has two terminals split by two large 3900-meter runways, meaning that passengers who wish to fly domestically need to exit the airport to transfer. The airport is well connected and has routes across East Europe and Asia, to Moscow, Seoul, and Dubai.

However, the site needs some tender love and care from the government (or a private venture) to expand beyond its two million passenger capacity (which, as you can see from the 2019 numbers is well beyond that point). Other airports in the country could fill that role, but currently, the local authority seems to favor this capital airport. It is the hub airport for Uzbekistan Airways, which you can read all about in our comprehensive article here.

Ashgabat International Airport

With over 2,500,000 passengers in 2019, this airport in Turkmenistan finds itself in the middle of the list with plenty of traffic and no domestic competition. It has a new terminal (completed in 2016 and the shape of a falcon) and a lengthened second runway, bringing both up to 3,800 meters. This airport is well taken care of by the government, operating 24-hours a day, and has all the modern comforts that you might expect from sites in Western Europe or North America. The local airline, Turkmenistan Airlines operates services from here across Asia (as far as Thailand, which is impressive) and into Eastern Europe.

However, services are rather sparse and the site could do with some more external attention. Thus far, only six airlines fly to Turkmenistan (five if you don’t include the home airline), leaving plenty of room for improvement.

Manas International Airport

BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN – MAY 27, 2017: Interior of Manas International Airport in Bishkek.

Kyrgyzstan’s Manas International airport is the major airport of the named country and is strongly considered to be a future powerhouse of the region. In 2019, it received 2,167,759 passengers and placing at the top of the country. It has a single runway 4,200 meters long for any sized commercial aircraft. However, its claim to fame isn’t commercial planes but rather military activity. In 2001, the site was selected as the main launch base for the US invasion of Afghanistan (part of Operation Enduring Freedom), seeing sizable infrastructure improvements. A decade later the site was handed back to the local government with all improvements intact, and a large purse to continue upkeep.

Like in neighboring Kazahkstan, this airport’s main source of traffic is Osh Airport.

Osh Airport

With 1,499,561 passengers, this airport is next on the list and is the counter-part to Kyrgyzstan’s Manas airport. While not much more than a regional city airport, it serves an important geographical location and thus has plenty of international routes across Central Asia. It expanded its terminal building in 2017 in a bid to process more travelers, and had the 2020 crisis not occurred, would be stronger considered to move up the ranks in 2021.

Dushanbe International Airport

Closing off our list is Dushanbe International Airport of with 1,422,204 passengers in 2019. Located in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, it is the defacto hub airport of the country and rivaling others to be the hub airport of the region. It has a new terminal built in partnership with France and is remarkably well connected throughout the region (thanks to being the home hub of two airlines, Somon Air and Tajik Air).

A COSMOPOLITAN MIX OF AIRPORTS

Central Asia offers a surprisingly cosmopolitan mix of airports, all trying to be the next big regional hub. However, a clear picture emerges that some have a brighter future than others thanks to government (or private) investment. Countries like Kazahkstan and Turkmenistan are preparing for the future by investing in their main hubs and may dramatically shake up this list when traffic returns.

 

In-Depth Look At Uganda Airlines

In-Depth Look At Uganda Airlines

The 1st A330neo delivered to Uganda Airlines in 2020

Uganda Airlines recently won the award for World’s Youngest Aircraft Fleet for 2021 from ch-aviation, with an average aircraft age of only 1.15 years. While they are known as the flag carrier of the named country, not many details are known about their strategy, plans, and why they have converted so much industry attention. Today, Eways Aviation will divulge everything you need to know about Uganda’s fascinating national carrier.

If you haven’t already read our companion article about Uganda, its airports, and the other airlines that operate there, you can read it here.

The first airline

Uganda Airlines has a long history, having been originally founded in the late 1970s with two Boeing 707s. It operated long-haul international routes to Europe and the Middle East, and eventually grew large enough to partner with other regional airlines like South African Airways and Air Tanzania. However, by the late 1990s, air travel growth had slowed and it was struggling to remain profitable.

The government made moves to privatize the airline and move it to a corporate model. However, the government failed to secure the right bid for the airline and took the unfortunate action to liquidate the carrier in 2001. Since then, the country’s aviation gap has been filled by charter operators, with its citizens forced to fly on international competitors.

Rebirth of Uganda Airlines

In 2016, after much discussion and debate, the Ugandan government decided to relaunch the airline. This was done for several reasons; primarily being to ensure regional links for Ugandan nationals (they no longer had to take expensive flights through other countries), to support tourism, and to encourage the development of the emerging oil industry in the country.

“Its revival will reduce the cost of air transport and ease connectivity to and from Uganda”, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said at the launch ceremony as reported by Aljazeera in 2019.

Then CEO of the new venture Ephraim Bagenda, pointed out that there was already an existing two million Ugandan passengers per year traveling through their hub airport that they could tap into; “All those currently travel on foreign airlines,” he told Reuters. “We want part of that cake.”

This new airline would be different from its predecessor and would start small to ensure profitability. The government decided to acquire six aircraft, two rare Airbus A330-800s that were suited for short runways and long-range flight, as well as four CRJ900s for regional destinations. This would mean that they have the youngest fleet in the world, with an average age of only 1.15 years! With only 24 pilots for operations, the new Uganda Airline would be a tight, well-trained efficient operation.

“We undertake to be a world-class airline that will exceed customer expectations through high-quality service,” said Ugandan Airlines CEO Ephraim Bagenda at the launch ceremony at Entebbe International Airport.

Initial plans had the airline operating routes throughout the Africa region, to Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi – with a goal to be profitable within two years.

What happened next?

During the global Coronavirus crisis, the airline and its hub airport were shut down for six months in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. This had a huge impact on the carrier and unfortunately, ended the ‘upward trend’ of the airline’s progress. While Uganda Airlines managed to generate $9.98 million US during the Coronavirus crisis, it was only 10% of the projected profits of $92.8 million US – leaving a loss of 27.4 million US.

“The legislators commended the airline for the progress made and pledged all the necessary support to the national carrier,” the airline noted in a media statement discussing the losses.

The airline managed to roll out its tenth destination to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by December last year, with eyes to move forward into a brighter future following the industry’s recovery.

In early 2021, the carrier secured an incredibly rare London Heathrow slot with an aim to offer five flights a week at an unknown cost. This in addition to flights to Dubai, Guangzhou, and Mumbai with its Airbus A330-800 fleet. When the flights will begin is a major question as both the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has yet to authorize the service (and the aircraft), and the UK is under lockdown until July.

“The aircraft are not yet certified by the regulator but we are hoping to have completed that process by the end of April. If the UK relaxes travel restrictions, we should be ready to launch London sometime in May.” said a spokesperson from the airline to Simple Flying.

In addition, the airline has expanded its pilot workforce to 50 pilots (with five being female, two of which are rated to fly the A330-800) and signed a deal with Rolls-Royce for total care of its Trent 7000 A330-800 engines. This deal will mean that the planes keep flying no matter what, and that passengers can be confident that they are in safe hands thanks to the expert outsourcing of maintenance.

Cornwell Muleya, Acting CEO of Uganda Airlines, said, “We are proud to include our new Rolls-Royce powered Airbus A330neos into our fleet and this agreement will ensure that our Trent 7000 engines will be maintained to world-leading levels of service.”

Uganda Airlines route map as march 2021

What is the airline’s plan going forward?

These new operations are all part of the airline’s new plan going forward – to monopolize all major international routes from this area of Africa to the world, and take the mantle away from rivals in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya. This will be accomplished with their fleet of young, fuel-efficient widebody aircraft, and by securing prestigious routes to some of the world’s best airports. Moving forward, the airline hasn’t ruled out acquiring further widebodies as it becomes the de facto hub airline for the region and secures its aviation future.

Uganda Airlines seems to be avoiding all the mistakes of not only its predecessors, but other new airlines in Africa – by focusing on profitable routes and a cunning business plan that has put its rivals on notice. But the marketplace in 2021 is full of obstacles and it may take more than a vision to survive in a consolidating environment. We can expect big things from this airline, and can’t wait to watch it grow.

Rwanda’s Airport Grand Plan

Rwanda’s Airport Grand Plan

Kigali International Airport

While many countries see aviation as an important part of their countries’ infrastructure, Rwanda stands out as one of the only countries in the world that have placed the air transportation industry at the core of its development plan. Succinctly, Rwanda intends its country and hub international airport to not only be the biggest aviation hub in Africa but to perhaps rivaling others like New York, London and its ideal goal, Singapore.

Let’s dive into its commercial aviation landscape and its airports.

What is the main airport of Rwanda?

As Rwanda is a relatively small country in Africa, Kigali International Airport serves as the primary gateway for both international and domestic air travel.

It has a single runway 3,500 meters (11,482 ft) long and is operated by the Rwanda Aviation Authority. It previously had a second runway, but this was shut down in 1993.

This airport has been upgraded in past years but still struggles to keep up with surging demand. The main two-story terminal building only has six gates, and despite being designed for a few hundred thousand passengers per year, actually facilitated 710,000 passengers in 2016.

To become the Singapore of Africa, Rwanda would first need to fix its airport capacity problem by building a new airport.

What is the new airport project?

Thanks to this demand, the government has made plans to build a new international airport called Bugesera International Airport. It will have a longer, 4,206 meter (13,800 ft) runway, with room for a second, and will operate in tandem with the existing Kigali International Airport. The first phase of construction will build a 30,000 square foot terminal capable of accommodating seven million passengers per year (more than ten times the original International airport), and a second terminal in 2032 that will allow it to cater for up to 14 million passengers per year.

Qatar Airways has bought a 60% stake in this new international airport.

“The partnership features three agreements to build, own, and operate the state-of-the-art facility,” the Rwanda Development Bureau said in a statement. “The agreements signed today mark a key milestone in the development of Rwanda’s vibrant aviation sector, in the context of the excellent bilateral relationship between Qatar and Rwanda.”

Originally the new airport project was estimated to cost $418 million US for phase one, and an additional $382 million for phase two. But with the inclusion of the new partner Qatar Airways, the airport budget has bellowed out to a staggering $1.31 billion US. These additional funds have allowed the airport to be redesigned for a significantly increased capacity, at the cost of project delays as the new plans were realized.

What about the country’s other airports?

Other airports in the country include:

  • Butare Airport in the south of the country. It has a single short runway of only 860 meters (2,820 ft) for regional jets
  • Kamembe Airport to the extreme west of the country. It receives plenty of traffic from Uganda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo thanks to its unique border location.
  • Gisenyi Airport – Like Kamembe Airport, this airport is located on the westerly border of Rwanda in the city of Gisenyi. It currently serves as a charter airport.
  • Nemba Airport – On the southern border with Burundi lies Nemba Airport. It has a single 1,100 meter (3,600 feet) runway.
  • Ruhengeri Airport – The largest active airport in the country by area, this facility serves the town of the same name and the northern state. It has a 1,480 m (4,860 feet) runway.

All of these airports are run and operated by the same government authority.

Rwanda’s airports in 2021

Like many other countries, Rwanda was hit hard by the effects of the 2020 global lockdown and had to close its airspace to all traffic (sans cargo operated by flag carrier Rwandair). But through an effective health program and implementing biosecurity features at airports, Rwanda was able to reopen its borders by August 2020.

As part of its strict entry requirements, Rwanda ensured that any new arrivals to Kigali had to have a negative COVID test and do a second test at the airport – quarantining at home or hotel for at least 24 hours until a double negative result was recorded.

This was so effective that the European Union approved Rwanda, the only country from sub-Saharan Africa, to fly operations to its home countries. While the virus has been a hurdle to overcome, it has hardly been a roadblock for Rwanda.

What can we learn from Rwanda?

It is not common that you find a country that does nearly everything right in the world of aviation, and when you do, the lessons can be invaluable.

Rwanda has correctly prioritized aviation as its saving grace to becoming an international power, supplying the right expertise to reach its ambitions with its partnership with Qatar Airways, and ensuring that its growth is not limited by capacity.

If Eways Aviation can offer one item of constructive criticism it would be this; while the capital is receiving plenty of attention, additional focus could be placed on regional airports especially those next to borders. Because other nations might lack the foresight to invest in regional aviation, Rwanda could effectively double-dip its aviation capacity from international passengers crossing from border communities.

Many countries in Africa harbor lofty ambitions of becoming a large flag carrier with an international hub airport, but it seems for Rwanda – this dream is close to reality.