Rwanda and Burundi have signed a bilateral air agreement (Basa), bringing the to four the number of such such deals Kigali has signed recently.
Rwanda signed other deals with South Sudan, Lesotho and Swaziland. However, government is yet to sign open sky policy agreements with Malawi, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania.
With the new Basa with Burundi, which replaced the one signed in the 1970s, airlines registered in Rwanda and Burundi will have unlimited use of the two countries’ airspace.
Before this agreement, airlines from Burundi and Rwanda were limited to flying three times a week but now, according to State Minister for Transport Alexis Nzahabwanimana, “they will fly as many times as they wish.”
But, without a national carrier and no immediate plans to expand its airport, Burundi has entered into the agreement on point of weakness.
Experts say in the short run, Rwanda will benefit more from the agreement. Burundi’s aviation industry has been struggling without a national carrier after Air Burundi suspended operations on the Kigali, Bujumbura and Entebbe routes.
“Air Burundi, the national carrier, last landed at Kigali International Airport in 2008,” said a top Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority official.
The only Beechcraft 1900 — a 19-passenger aircraft — Air Burundi was grounded in 2009, when it clocked the maximum flight hours. However, Air Burundi has plans to acquire new aircraft after restructuring.
Burundian Minister for Transport and Public Works Deogratias Rurimuzu said plans to revive Air Burundi are under way.
“Burundi is also in the process of acquiring its own planes,” said Mr Rurimuzu.
The Rwandan government has invested heavily in RwandAir’s fleet expansion and has also started building Bugesera International Airport to handle more traffic.
Rwanda views at a developed aviation industry has a key driver for the services and tourism sectors as aviation experts say national carriers are always a major link to global business.
RwandAir’s fleet has grown to seven planes, including two Boeing 737–800NG, two CRJ900NG, two dry leased Boeing 737-700NG and one wet leased DASH8. There are also plans to double the fleet by 2017.
John Mirenge, chief executive officer of RwandAir, said more flights to Burundi are likely to make the airline profitable. He said accessing air space with no limitations means more business for the airlines.
Boosting service sector
Rwanda plans to boost its services sector as part of the efforts to turn the country into a middle income economy, which has been growing at an average of 8.2 per cent for over a decade.
The country also plans to move away from an agriculture-based economy to a service- based one.
“What is clear is that the potential in the services sector is yet to be exploited and that we still have a long way for the sector to become a major source of jobs,” Claver Gatete, Minister for Finance and Economic Planning, earlier told service investment forum hosted by the Rwanda Development Board.
Mr Nzahabwanimana, said the agreement would not only facilitate trade between the two countries, but also improve bilateral co-operation.
The East African Community’s Common Market Protocol requires free movement of people, goods and services, and to fast track this, Rwanda has implemented a one-stop-border to facilitate regional trade.