RwandAir will take delivery of two Airbus A330neos and two Boeing 737 MAX 8s in 2019 and has confirmed new services to the US and China.

The A330neo will be deployed on the Kigali-New York route, which will launch in June 2019 to bring more tourism to Rwanda, CEO Yvonne Manzi Makolo told ATW on the sidelines of this week’s IATA AGM in Sydney.

Tourism is the No. 1 industry in the Eastern African nation of Rwanda.

Kigali-Guangzhou (China) services will also begin early next year. To balance the network in terms of additional long-haul routes, more short- and medium-haul destinations will be added. For example, Makolo said routes to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Djibouti (East Africa), Bamako (Mali) and Conakry (Guinea) are on the immediate list.

Kigali-based RwandAir, which operates four types of 12 aircraft—one Airbus A330-200, one A330-300, two Boeing 737-700s, four 737-800s and two each Bombardier Q400s and CRJ900s—is also focusing on fleet harmonization.

“We are phasing out the CRJs and are discussing a replacement, leaving us with three aircraft types. We have to keep the Q400 for domestic flights,” she said.

“Managing the fast growth is challenging—we had quite a number of new destinations in Africa, Europe and India, and established a hub in Cotonou (Benin) where one Boeing 737NG is based.”

Makolo said the Benin government invited RwandAir to build a base and they are interested in a possible joint venture (JV) with RwandAir. “The government have given us seventh freedom rights, hoping the JV is coming soon,” she said.

RwandAir expects to transport close to 1 million passengers in the current financial year, up from 740,000.

Makolo said the government-owned carrier’s biggest challenges are fuel costs, capacity, and having enough skilled resources like pilots. The airline, which is building an aviation academy to train employees, currently has 25 pilots from Rwanda, besides many expats.

“We are working toward profitability, which could come into force ideally in the next four to five years,” she said.

“RwandAir must be seen in the context in building up the economy of Rwanda, which is a landlocked country. Aviation is the solution to bypass that challenge and we have seen the positive impact of the airline on the nation,” Makolo concluded.

Kurt Hofmann,