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“The airline is an irreplaceable catalyst for economic growth,” Minister Uzziel Ndagijirnana. Pictured here: A330 of Rwand Air at Brussels Airport – photo hs/CFG

How many funds the government of the gas-rich Gulf state has offered the Kigali rulers to finance Rwand Air’s projected fleet growth, is a well-kept secret to this date. All that is known is that the Qataris are more than willing to support the expansion plans of the East African carrier, despite its persistent losses, in order to turn Rwanda into a regional African hub for passenger and cargo flights alike. This will, in turn, also benefit Qatar Airways’ business. The Gulf carrier’s long-term ambition, supported by the Kigali government, is confirmed by Rwanda’s Minister of Finance and Economic Planning, Uzziel Ndagijirnana: “We are in final negotiations (with Qatar Airways) to make our airline stronger, grow its fleet, and commit more resources to enlarge its reach.” The airline is an irreplaceable catalyst for economic growth, tourism, cultural exchange, and it connects Rwanda with other countries, the politician said. Despite the growing financial and economic influence of the Qataris, Mr. Ndagijirnana declared that the Rwandan government intends to remain majority owner, securing 51% of the national carrier’s shares. Neither he nor other governmental sources revealed how many aircraft will be added to Rwand Air’s fleet, presumably fully financed by Qatar Airways. It also remains unclear what the local government is offering the Arabian investor in return. Currently, the East African carrier operates 2 long-haul A330, 4 B737-800, 2 B737-700, 2 Bombardier Q-400, and 2 Bombardier CRJ-900, adding to 12 aircraft.

Will cargo complement passenger services?
Although much of the future fleet and expansion plans still remain vague and nebulous, since they have not been made public to this hour, some specifics are revealed on the carrier’s website. Accordingly, Brussels and Guangzhou are new destinations standing on the long-haul list, due to be served once Covid-19 fades out. These routes are complemented by new regional passenger services taking off from Kigali to Doha and Kinshasa. Finally, the carrier’s future itinerary also displays flights to 500 km distant Mwanza in Tanzania, operated by freighter aircraft – the only pure cargo route targeted so far. Unfortunately, in all three cases: network expansion, fleet plans, and cargo ambitions, the state-owned airline adheres to the principle that no communication is the best communication.

Confrontation instead of cooperation
Cooperation between Qatar and Rwanda first became obvious in 2017, when both sides announced plans to jointly build a new airport in a move aimed to replace the capital city airport of Kigali from 2022 onwards. Originally, a Portuguese construction company Mota-Engil Africa had won the airport tender. However, it was pushed out of the project as result of a campaign full of accusations and counteraccusations in which the Rwandan state participated massively and which led to the withdrawal of the Portuguese firm.  

Whether the Qatari side was already involved in this dispute, offering the Rwandan government a more attractive package than that of the Portuguese, has not been proven, although some East African media indicated that indirectly.

Fact is, once Mota-Engil Africa was out, Qatar stepped in, guaranteeing the Kigali government the completion of the construction work based on changed conditions.

First CO2 neutral complex in East Africa
Meanwhile, the silhouette of the new greenfield airport is slowly becoming visible. In FEB20, Rwanda’s national carrier and Qatar Airways signed an agreement securing the Gulf carrier 60% of Bugesera International Airport, while Rwanda’s State Holding retains the other 40%. The airport is estimated to cost US$1.3 billion, including accessibility and public infrastructure. Once operational, it is expected to be the first certified climate friendly building in East Africa, emitting zero greenhouse gases.
Rwanda is also ahead in another area. All Rwand Air’s employees have been vaccinated against C-19. This also applies to the handling agents and ground personnel. - Heiner Siegmund, Cargo Forwarder Global

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