Wednesday, March 21, 2012 at around two o’clock the brand new Qatar Airways Airbus A320 Neo, touched down amidst water salutes and traditional Kinyarwanda performances at Kigali International Airport.
Welcoming the world’s biggest airline to Kigali was the Chief Guest, the Minister of Infrastructure Hon. Albert Nsengiyumva accompanied by the State Minister in the Ministry of Infrastructure in charge of Transport Dr. Alex Nzahabwanimana among other top government officials plus heads of private businesses and other organizations.
The CEO of Qatar Airways Mr. Akbar Al Baker led his crew to Kigali to officially launch the airline’s 17th destination on the continent during a cocktail organized right adjacent to Kigali International Airport main terminal, in the gardens.
This takes the airline’s African capacity up to 132 passenger flights per week across a diverse network of cities (if Africa). Soon, Qatar Airways will spread its wings to Mombasa in Kenya, and both Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania.
A few months ago, Qatar Airways also launched in Uganda, Entebbe International Airport, and is now operating daily flights twice to Nairobi and Dar el Salam. The Kigali-Doha (Qatar’s capital) route too will operate daily flights according to information provided by Qatar Airways with connection to even farther destinations beyond Africa; in Europe, Middle East, South Asia, Asia Pacific, North and South America. Kigali-Doha flight connections are operated via Entebbe in Uganda.
Speaking to M r. Pritt Chibole, the Commercial Manager Qatar Airways in Uganda, he said: “we’re excited about Kigali-Doha connection through Entebbe. Already, within a short period of operation in Uganda Qatar Airways is an airline of choice, providing our clients with a memorable travel experience”.
Kigali-Doha flights are operated with an airbus A320 in two-class configuration of 12 seats in business class and 132 in economy, offering passengers throughout both cabins with personal seatback entertainment systems with over 800 interactive audio and video on demand options to chose from. The aircraft is also equipped with a special OnAir service allowing passengers to use their mobile phones onboard for SMS and internet emails.
Mr. Akbar looks at the East Africa as a relatively underserved region yet with huge potential, especially in terms of business. Qatar flights to Kigali in Rwanda takes the airline’s East Africa coverage up to 42 flights per week, providing even easier connections to other cities on the continent including; Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Khartoum, Seychelles, Cairo, Luxor, Alexandria, Benghazi, Tripoli, Algiers, Tunis and Casablanca. The airline currently operates a modern fleet of 106 aircraft to 113 key Business and leisure destination.
For passengers traveling on Qatar Airways, they will have convenient access to Kigali via the airline’s strategically positioned Doha hub and expansive global network.
At the recent annual Skytrax World Airline Awards, Qatar was voted the Airline of the Year 2011 after reaching 100 destinations in its global route map. Mr. Akbar in his (route) inaugural speech said the Kigali-Doha route now brings the Qatar destination network to a total of 113 destinations.
Rwanda, an economically fast growing nation but landlocked envisages investing heavily in air transport to open up easier and faster connections to the rest of the world for business. The regulatory, legal and infrastructural developments in Rwanda’s aviation sector have attracted big international airlines to Kigali in recent times, notably; KLM, South African, and now Qatar Airways. SN Brussels flies to Kigali three times a week. It is also rumored that Turkish Airline is also seriously eyeing Rwanda.
Mr. Akbar mentioned that among the factors that attracted Qatar Airways to open Kigali-Doha route are; potential high demand, abundant tourism opportunities, business cargo freight opportunities, plus other economic opportunities like mining. Over the past three years, according to RCAA statistics, the total number of travelers through KIA have increased significantly; from an average of about 280,000 people to well over 400, 000, mainly tourists.
“We have extended our reach to yet another underserved market,” he remarked, also adding: “The leadership in Rwanda is very aggressive, especially President Paul Kagame— a leader that wants and is commitment to put his country on the map”.
On behalf of Government, Minister Nsengiyumva pledged full support to Qatar Airways, and hinted on a possibility of RwandAir-Qatar Airways Partnership; possibly code sharing—to enable the national carrier fly to farther destinations.
“The Government of Rwanda is ready to partner with Qatar Airways. Doha to Kigali route will bring mutual benefits between our two countries.
Rwanda is keen to set up a partnership with Qatar Airways to benefit our national carrier”, he disclosed
THE GOVERNMENT COMMITMENT
In his address, Minister Nsengiyumva said Rwanda envisages opening her borders beyond regional boundary and gradually reaching out to the whole continent of Africa and beyond.
That is why there has been huge investment in the aviation sector, including the state of the art equipment in the aviation field.
In a separate interview with Hope Magazine, the Director General of Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) Dr. Richard Masozera said a lot of work has gone into making sure that Rwanda complies with regional and international safety standards, which he believes is one of the main pulling factors of major International airlines to Rwanda.
However, it is feared by some pundits that such huge international airlines will definitely require bigger facilities at Kigali International Airport. Dr. Masozera puts such worries to rest: “We’re already investing about US$20million in airport expansion plus facilities upgrade. As you can witness construction is already underway”. A new VIP Lounge called the Pearl Lounge Kigali worth $250, 000 equivalent to Rwf150m was unveiled last year.
The Government of Rwanda aims to improve air transport so as to boost the tourism sector for sustainable economic development. Tourism is one of the leading sectors contributing to Rwanda GNP.
For the past 10 years, Rwanda has prioritized growth of the aviation sector. She has invested heavily in advanced technology in aviation infrastructure, including development of new navigation aid, modern radar system and meteorology system.
Bringing Qatar Airways to Rwanda has taken the Government only 5 months, confirmed the Minister. “We initiated the process in November last year, in a few months Qatar has touched ground in Rwanda. I thank all stakeholders who have facilitated the process, notably RwandAir and Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority”.
IMPACT TO THE ECONOMY
The ever increasing penetration of continental and international airlines in the Rwandan market is indeed having a positive impact on Rwanda’s economy especially in terms of job creation, opening up business opportunities to Rwandans with the rest of the world, generation of foreign exchange and providing backward business linkages.
Being a 5-star airline, Qatar Airways offers lucrative business opportunities to tours and travel operators, banks, hotels and of course media agencies (for massive advertisement). At the launch, a variety of such private businesses were well represented mainly by the CEOs themselves.
Rwanda being a landlocked country, air transport is regarded as a conduit to economic development.
It is hoped that Qatar Airways will augment export trade opportunities between Rwanda the Gulf, mainly the Doha Hub considering the strong ties between the two countries. Major Rwanda exports to Qatar are mainly horticultural products, honey among other agricultural products. With the Government Horticultural Development Strategy it is projected that (horticultural) exports will increase in the near future, thus opening up cargo freight business opportunities to international airlines like Qatar Airways. Mr. Akbar told Hope Magazine, starting commercial (cargo) freight business is a high possibility. The airline also operates cargo freights to most destinations in Africa and rest of the world.
On prospects of Qatar Jobs to Rwandans, Mr. Akbar said Rwanda entered Qatar airways two years ago and this saw the first Rwandan Qatar employee. Today, there are several Rwandans serving in the Airline and the number will increase steadily.
INCREDIBLE QATAR AIRWAYS
No airline (company) is this world has ever grown like Qatar Airways has. Started in 1995 with only four aircraft, the airline has today a fleet of 108 modern aircraft flying to 113 destinations across the world. Comparatively a young airline (only 17 years) it was recently crowned the Airline of the Year 2011 by Skytrax Airline Global Industry Audit. Mr. Akbar said Qatar Airlines on average receives a new aircraft every after 15 days. He said nearly US$50billion (equivalent to 270 new airplanes) will be injected over the next 9 years. “We don’t only believe in buying aeroplanes, we want to go places as well. We want to be product innovators –we innovate products that competitors follow”. Indeed, the penetration of Qatar Airways in the regional market will give competitors a run for their money.