Kigali International Airport has recorded the best ever passenger traffic performance in the first 11 months of last year.
The airport served 569,182 passengers who arrived and departed through the terminals, which exceeds the 2014 figure by more than 11,000.
The 6 per cent growth in passenger from January to November 2015 was boosted by a combination of the growing domestic and international passengers demand.
But the challenge of high costs of air ticket and cargo freight charges restrict many East Africans from flying, preferring road transport.
Besides, transporting cargo from the airport, though steadily growing, is still expensive. It costs two times more to airlift cargo from Kigali airport compared with other regional airports.
The operators have shown willingness to reduce the air travel costs but blame the governments in the region for maintaining restrictive high airport handling costs and fees.
Analysts note that the high aviation fuel costs, airport charges and other taxes are partly responsible for the expensive air travel, a challenge that the governments of Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and South Sudan must address under the regional initiative to fast-track infrastructure development — Northern Corridor Integration Projects.
When the costs are reduced even by 50 per cent, the operators say air tickets will likewise become affordable.
Despite the challenges, passengers at Kigali airport have been growing at the back of an expanding RwandAir — the national flag carrier — that picks and drops passenger from all regions in Africa to transit through Kigali International Airport.
The airline flies to several airports in East Africa, among them Central Africa, West Africa, Southern Africa and the Middle East from its main base at Kigali International Airport.
“Look at the upward trend in traffic for the past 10 years. The terminal handling capacity of Kigali International Airport was increased from the former 400,000 to the current 1,5 million people after the recent $18 million upgrade,” said Tonny Barigye, Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCCA) official.
Aviation commentators say the reopening of Kamembe in Western Rwanda, a strategic airport that serves passengers from Bukavu in eastern Congo has been a boon in increasing the number of passengers.
Kamembe is strategically located in Rwanda’s leading tourist destinations — Kivu belt, gorillas and the Nile trek — but also near the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Many Congolese and tour operators transit through Kigali International Airport.
Domestic airport has contributed an additional OF over 11,000 passengers at Kigali International Airport. As a result ,airlines’ load factor has been growing steadily from 548,032 — January to December 2014 to 569,182 in the 11 months this year (2015), statistics from RCCA shows.
RwandAir withdrew its aircraft from Mwanza Airport to be deployed to Kamembe starting with 446 domestic passengers but the number has picked to 1157 in November this year.
There are high hopes that the passenger traffic will grow further as the national carrier invests in modern fleet of planes.
The airline invested in Airbus wide body that can carry more cargo.
“We needed more destinations that attract business — such as China and India. Our intention is to start serving those markets that contribute the highest number of tourists. For instance Europe,” said John Mirenge while appearing in KFM business Talks show.
“We started from 30 per cent load factor; we are now at 60 per cent. This shows that we are efficiently deploying the assets that we have. This business will pay because it is growing — every year we get,” said Mr Mirenge.