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A Kenya Airways 787 retracts its gear after rotation. Photo AirlineGeeks/William Derrickson


Kenya Airways and Congo Airways on Thursday announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding that would strengthen commercial ties between the two airlines, mainly aimed at boosting passenger and cargo businesses between their respective markets and international networks.

“The cooperation between Kenya Airways and Congo Airways will cover technical capacity building, commercial cooperation and human resource training. Part of this will cover cost-effective aircraft maintenance and technical expertise, particularly on the Embraer E-Jet fleet training in engineering, flight deck and crew, route codeshare opportunities and other synergies,” the airlines said in a statement.

Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and CEO Allan Kilavuka said the partnership is aimed at aiding both airlines as they look to recover from the slump in demand in the past year.

“The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the associated containment measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus disrupted the aviation sector, with most markets operating at reduced capacity and some fully shutting down. As the global economies continue to rebound steadily, this commitment provides an opportunity to leverage on the strengths of the industry players in the future,” Kilavuka said.

Congo Airways CEO Désiré Balazire Bantu echoed that sentiment.

“Congo Airways is very excited about this agreement with Kenya Airways. This partnership will contribute to the promotion and the development of both companies. The air transport sector has been very impacted by the pandemic with Covid-19. Together we will provide better solutions and innovations. In the future our companies will be able to face the single air transport market as decided by the African Union,” Bantu said.

Kilavuka also highlighted the importance of the strategic cooperation between the two national carriers and their role in enhancing trade exchange between the two countries. He also stressed the importance of collaboration on expertise that benefits the aviation sector, especially as the aviation sector recovers from the devastating impact of Covid-19.

Kenya Airways continues to take steps to strengthen its business and respond to the pandemic, with an emphasis on supporting its customers and team members while reducing costs and improving its liquidity position and balance sheet.

The airline tripled its 2019 losses to record an unprecedented loss of 36.57 billion Kenyan shillings in 2020, a staggering $1 million loss per day and the worst results in Kenya’s corporate history.

The Kenyan national airline also carried a dismal 1.8 million passengers in 2020, a decline of 65% from 5.1 million in 2019 and a reflection of a year largely defined by the Covid-19 pandemic. - Victor Shalton, Airline Geeks

Photo Courtesy


Esther Mbabazi is Rwanda’s first female Commercial Pilot, currently flying with RwandAir as a Senior First Officer.

Esther was born in Burundi in 1988, to Rwandese parents. At age 5, she looked up and watched an aeroplane cut across the sky and thought, “I want to be the one flying that plane.”

At age 8, her father died in a plane crash when the aircraft he was travelling in overshot the runway while landing in the neighbouring Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The family moved back to Rwanda in 1996.

She trained at the East African Civil Aviation Academy in Uganda before RwandAir sponsored her to continue her training in Miami, Florida.

At age 24, Esther became Rwanda’s first female Commercial Pilot, an achievement that shocked a lot of people because her father died in a plane crash when she was a young girl.

But Esther refused to be deterred from her dream. She said:

"You know what? I’m going to fly, and that’s what motivated me my entire life, that idea I had as a young child.

A lot of leadership roles are taken by women in Rwanda, our government is really doing a good job training and supporting women in all aspects of life."

According to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, also known as UN Women, Rwanda is one of the African countries that are leading in empowering women by giving them roles that were traditionally a reserve for men. - Pindula News


“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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