RwandAir will use the West African hub of Accra to feed its direct flights to the US once it gets the final approval from the US's Federal Aviation Agency (FAA).
In an interview with Travel Weekly, RwandAir chief executive officer Yvonne Makolo said that the Ghanaian city will facilitate connecting traffic around Africa.
“We are making sure the New York flight is able to connect to the East Africa region. We'll be flying the Kigali-Accra-New York route, so we'll be looking at the West Africa market,” Ms Makolo told the publication.
The Rwandan national carrier’s model is different from that of its regional competitor Kenya Airways.
In October, Kenya Airways launched daily direct nonstop flights from its Nairobi hub to New York’s JFK Airport.
Now, facing reduced passenger numbers and the onset of winter in the northern hemisphere, KQ plans to cut its frequency to five times a week effective January 15.
RwandAir’s original plan was to fly to New York by June 2019, and it says that would have required that all approvals be done before next March.
However, this was delayed because the FAA completed its audit of the Kigali facility in the fourth quarter of this year, and the US Department of Transport then gave RwandAir approval to fly to the US in March.
“We are still working around the June 2019 timeline, but it might be pushed back. It's going to be to New York, depending on which airport we get suitable slots. The FAA finalised the technical review a few weeks ago, so we are waiting for all the other processes to be completed,” Ms Makolo said.
RwandAir plans to use the Airbus A330Neo on the New York route, a wide body aircraft with full flat beds for the business class, and with a premium economy class.
“We are expecting tourism to be the biggest driver of this route given that it has become our biggest foreign exchange earner. We are also seeing conference tourism becoming an important factor for Rwanda, making the country the top third host after South Africa and Morocco. The leisure and conference tourists and the African diaspora will be the key markets we are looking at,” said Ms Makolo.
Currently the Kigali-based carrier faces competition both on its regional and international routes from Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines as they operate the same routes.
The two latter carriers also now fly to New York, with KQ landing at JFK, and Ethiopian at Newark Airport.
South African Airways, Egyptair, Royal Air Maroc and Delta Air Lines also offer scheduled passenger services from Africa to the US.
But it is only KQ that has direct nonstop flights to New York, with Ethiopian connecting either through Dublin, Ireland or West Africa on the outbound flight and nonstop on its return flight.
Announcing the reduction of frequency this past Thursday, Kenya Airways chief executive officer Sebastian Mikosz said that while the reduction of frequencies was a strategic business decision, the airline remains strongly committed to the New York route and will continue to offer nonstop services.
“As the only airline that offers a nonstop flight between East Africa and the US, this route remains significant to us because of the role it plays in opening more economic and tourism growth opportunities for Kenya and East Africa.
“The decision to adjust our schedule is to cater for seasonality in line with global practices that allows airlines to reduce or add frequencies based on low or high seasons,” Mr Mikosz said, adding that they would evaluate the option of reverting to daily flights for the route next summer, just as they've been doing for the Paris and Amsterdam routes.