How RwandAir found a niche despite a turbulent 2021


2020 was a disastrous year for airlines, and RwandAir, the national carrier was no exception.

Towards the end of the year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) announced full-year global passenger traffic results for 2020 showing that demand (revenue passenger kilometres) fell by 65.9 per cent compared to the previous year.

Also contracted by 35.7 per cent was the capacity while load factor dropped 17 percentage points to 66.6 per cent.

The global outlook is by far the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history. Furthermore, domestic demand in 2020 was down 48.8 per cent compared to 2019.

Much as Rwanda doesn’t have a large domestic market, the national carrier entered the cargo space to help compensate for the losses in passenger revenue.

Similarly, operating flights from Asia to the Middle East, then onwards to Europe during the pandemic, it was able to prove that it was up to the role most often identified with large international premium carriers.

Like last year, however, the airline is experiencing a dramatic start of 2022 as more severe travel restrictions are imposed in the face of new variant Omicron.

Optimism lies in vaccination uptake

According to experts, governments are urged to work with industry to develop the standards for vaccination, testing, and validation which would lead to a prompt and orderly restoration in global air travel.

The IATA Travel Pass will help this process, by providing passengers with an App to easily and securely manage their travel in line with any government requirements for Covid-19 testing or vaccine information.

In February 2021 RwandAir partnered with IATA for the trial of the pass.

The travel pass, at the time was described as a digital platform that will help passengers easily and securely verify that they comply with Covid-19 test or vaccine travel requirements, in turn giving governments the confidence to reopen borders.

Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the airline’s Chief Executive, welcomed the development citing that it will make easy for the carriers customers to resume flying but also for other airlines to accept them.

Growing network of routes

2021 was a year filled with a pool of achievements on the network’s front with the latest being Doha, Qatar early last month.

The carrier will operate the route three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with flight code WB300 bringing to an end Qatar Airways’ Kigali-Doha route that had been operational for over nine years.

Through the route, Rwandans will be able to take advantage of our RwandAir’s seamless connections from Doha to over 40 destinations across the Qatar Airways network.

This follows a codeshare agreement between the two airlines.

Doha becomes the fourth destination RwandAir added to its map in the last year. Others include Bangui in Central African Republic (CAR), Goma and Lumbashi both in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo).

In particular, the DR Congo route was massively welcomed looking at the business prospects between the two countries especially in the mining sector.

DR Congo remains the main destination for Rwanda’s informal exports, according to available data. It accounts for 86.9 per cent of Rwanda’s informal cross border exports.

Financial stimulus boost

It hasn’t been a completely smooth ride, however, with the airline suffering like many others due to the global crisis, government offered the carrier a stimulus boost of Rwf145.1 billion and another subsidy of Rwf81.3 billion.

The financial muscle, according to the airline management supports it to keep staff employed and allow for it to keep its ambitious network expansion goals.

RwandAir is one of the fastest growing airlines and operates one of the youngest fleet on the African continent.

The fleet includes one Airbus A330-200 and a single A330-300, two Boeing 737-700s and four 737-800s.

Also part of the fleet are two CRJ900ERs and two of the very popular Dash 8 Q400 turboprops.

Qatar-RwandAir deal offers a prospective outlook

It is still early days, but the national carrier has seen some solid expansion.

But with investment from Middle Eastern Giant Qatar Airways, the airline projects huge performance over the coming years.

Africa is the most unserved continent, and the airlines that are serving them are taking the passengers to the cleaners. My job is to provide them a world-class airport and partner with RwandAir to give them the kind of service we provide in Qatar Airways,” said airline’s Chief Executive, Akbar Al Baker, in a previous interview.

Hope for a better 2022

Given the steadily increasing vaccination rates and some loosening of travel restrictions, the pandemic is far from finished and will continue to burden the global aviation industry into 2022.

This is mainly attributed to the rise of new, more contagious variants; whereas 2021 endured the Delta surge, 2022 is being welcomed by Omicron.

With Rwanda being among the few African countries with the most percentage of vaccinated population, officials are convinced that it is highly unlikely that the country will once again experience the global halt and reductions witnessed in 2020, when air travel rate was 70% lower than pre-pandemic levels.