Rwanda says it is putting on hold the acquisition of new airplanes for its national carrier RwandAir mainly due to the impact of Covid-19 on business.
The additional planes were to enable RwandAir serve the increasingly opened skies through the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA).
Due to the pandemic, RwandAir was forced to suspend operations following the lockdown in March, and only resumed operations in August when the country started a gradual reopening of the economy.
The airline has gradually reopened routes though passenger occupancy remains low as some parts of the world remain in a lockdown while in other countries travel remains 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.
“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. We cannot expand in this environment,” Claver Gatete, Rwanda’s the Minister of Infrastructure, told The EastAfrican.
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 earlier plans of the airline, 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, infrastructure investment to support the aviation sector will continue, the government says.
Qatar is set to acquire 60 per cent stake in RwandAir and is expected to complete construction of Bugesera Airport.
According to Mr Gatete, negotiations with Qatar have advanced, inking the deal between the two parties should take place anytime soon, under which the construction work should take off.
“As we conclude with Qatar, we are also going to speed up the construction...We have been negotiating but now we have reached the conclusion, I don’t want to prompt when we are going to sign but we will let you know,” Mr Gatete told The EastAfrican.