Travel Radar speaks exclusively with RwandAir’s CEO Yvonne Manzi Makolo to find out the latest news for the ambitious African carrier
RwandAir has been the leading airline in Africa when it comes to measures regarding COVID-19. Could you share details on how these measures are being applied?
“The health and safety of our customers and staff is the top priority for RwandAir, so we have truly gone above and beyond when it comes to our procedures and protocols.
“RwandAir was the first African airline to begin vaccinating all staff against COVID-19 and we have now successfully vaccinated all of our teams, making us one of the safest on the continent.
“We’re also trialling the digital health pass with IATA, Africa CDC and Common Pass to ensure we develop a process which meets the requirements for flying safely but also makes flying as hassle-free as possible to ensure the quickest and smoothest flight to experience for our customers.
“The extensive protocols we’ve implemented range from the deep cleaning and disinfection of aircraft, to requiring all customers to wear face masks throughout their journey – from the moment they arrive at the airport, take to the air and depart their destination airport.
“Customers also have added peace of mind that all our aircraft are fitted with high-efficiency particulate absorbing (HEPA) filters which remove over 99% of particulates.
“In addition to these measures, we’ve digitised our boarding process so that customers now use barcode readers, to minimise any unnecessary touch points and speed up safe boarding.
“Thanks to these rigorous steps, Rwandair is proud to be the first African airline to receive the Diamond status from APEX Health Safety, powered by SimpliFlying.”
What are your future plans when it comes to new routes and your fleet?
“RwandAir is an ambitious airline and the pandemic has given us the time to, streamline our business and fleet to make sure it best meets the needs of our customers and ensures continuing profitability, especially as we emerge from the effects of the pandemic
“We’ve had to create a leaner operation for the time being, but our five-year plan looks to almost double our fleet as we develop new and emerging markets, in line with the return of demand.
“But given the dynamic nature of the challenges currently facing us, and the rest of the aviation sector, we also have to be pragmatic and nimble enough to respond quickly when changes do occur.
“In line with our future expansion, there is a lot of work being done in terms of the new airport currently under construction which will enable us to significantly ramp up our operations and offer an enhanced customer experience to those who fly with us
“If plans go according to schedule, we expect the first phase of the new airport to handle close to seven million passengers while we develop it into a major regional hub.”
How is the African aviation market looking at the moment?
“As you can imagine, there is a lot of uncertainty in the current climate which makes planning really difficult. The African Airlines Association estimates that the cumulative losses for the African airlines last year was close to US$10.2 billion.
“While international travel has been slow to return, intra-African travel across the continent has experienced a quicker bounce back. RwandAir restored almost all of its pre-pandemic routes across Africa as part of a gradual rollout of the network once the authorities reopened Rwandan airspace.
“We’re really focused on connecting Africa and we believe there is a lot of potential in terms of linking African markets and beyond the African continent.
“Because of the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area which came into effect this year we expect to see an increase of movement of both people and goods between countries.
“Demand has also returned thanks to RwandAir’s introduction of stringent world-class health and hygiene protocols to protect our customers and crew, in the air and on the ground, especially in our Kigali home for transfer passengers.”
You have a new loyalty partnership with Qatar Airways. What does this entail?
“As the first Sub-Saharan African airline to enter into partnership with Qatar Airways’ Privilege Club, RwandAir is incredibly proud to launch this joint loyalty programme.
“The new partnership means that RwandAir Dream Miles customers are able to earn and burn points to give them access to flights across Qatar Airways’ extensive route network of more than 200 destinations, with the same reciprocal benefits apply to Qatar’s Privilege Club customers.
“We believe this initiative is a major step forward towards greater cooperation between Africa’s most ambitious airline and one of the world’s most prestigious international carriers, and we look forward to further enhancing the benefits of our Dream Miles members.
In which regions does RwandAir see the most opportunities?
“We see great growth opportunities within the African market, which remains largely underserved.
“Europe is also a very strong market for us, we currently operate flights to Brussels, which is a major home for the African diaspora live there.
“London is also a key market in terms of both exports and tourism, as well as for connectivity beyond the UK, particularly to the US and Canada.
“As travel restrictions gradually ease, we’re looking to add more services to both Brussels and London as we continue to recover from the pandemic and reestablish RwandAir as an increasingly important player in the African aviation sector.”