Rwanda has announced that it is putting on hold the acquisition of new airplanes for its national carrier RwandAir, mainly due to the impact of Covid-19 on businesses.
The additional planes were to enable RwandAir serve the increasingly opened skies through the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA).
Due to the global pandemic, RwandAir was forced to suspend operations following the lockdown in March, and only resumed operations in August when the country started a gradual re-opening of the economy.
The airline has gradually re-opened routes, though passenger occupancy remains low as some parts of the world remain in a lockdown while in other countries, travel remain restricted.
The government says expansion of the airline’s fleet will wait until business goes back to normal.
RwandAir currently has 12 airplanes including two Boeing 737-700NG, two Bombardier CRJ-900 NextGen, four Boeing 737-800NG, two Bombardier Q-400 NextGen, one Airbus A330 – 300, and one Airbus A330 – 200.
Before the pandemic hit, the airline had planned to lease two Airbus A330neo and two Boeing 737 Max 8.
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Rwanda’s Minister of Infrastructure Claver Gatete says “Even the planes we have are not being used to the maximum due to the Covid-19. We have to wait until the passengers are free to keep travelling in a safer environment, so that we can now expand as we cannot expand in this environment.”
He spoke during a press briefing on Friday after signing a bilateral air services agreement (BASA) with the Republic of Korea, bringing the total to 101 BASAs within and outside Africa. Out of these, 52 have been ratified, 17 signed, and 32 initiated.
According to the airline’s earlier plans, the A330neos were to be deployed on long-haul routes to Guangzhou, China, and New York, as well as boost capacity to Dubai, Lagos, and Johannesburg.
RwandAir recently secured clearance to serve New York on code-share and wet-lease basis; an arrangement where one airline provides an aircraft, complete crew, maintenance, and insurance to another airline or other type of business acting as a broker of air travel (the lessee), which pays by hours operated.
The 737 Max 8s were scheduled to serve Tel Aviv in Israel, and other regional flights such as Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
Despite the halting of airplane acquisitions, the government says infrastructure investment to support the aviation sector will continue.
Qatar is set to acquire 60 per cent stake in RwandAir and is expected to complete construction of Bugesera Airport.
According to Gatete, negotiations with Qatar have advanced, and inking the deal between the two parties should take place anytime soon, under which the construction work should take off.
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