For the last twenty three years, Rwanda’s pragmatic and visionary leadership has sustained a secure and generally conducive fiscal atmosphere to enable a vibrant national economy and the vivid growth of social cohesion and development of the citizenry.
It is during this long journey that Rwanda’s aviation, a major pillar of the economy has also undergone rapid development in order to be a dependable contributor to the energetic private sector and be able to connect Rwandans to the world and vice versa.
After the massacre of more than a million Tutsi during the genocide, like other sectors of the economy, the aviation industry was gravely affected. The human resource was depleted and the infrastructure was in tatters.
But with a foresighted leadership, the face of aviation in Rwanda has been reconstructed both nationally and internationally.
In the immediate aftermath of the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, reconstruction of the transport system was among the major considerations to quickly open up a landlocked country for trade with other countries and ensure that the national economy is resuscitated for better livelihoods of nationals and also building trade relationships with neighboring countries and beyond.
In a bid to bring expeditious and impactful development to the nation and her people, the Government of Rwanda elaborated Vision 2020 through a consultative process and adopted it in 2000. And other sub plans like Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS) and Seven Year Economic Programs (2010-2017) followed suit to ensure that tangible results are achieved.
It is in this regard that the Government of Rwanda viewed the aviation sector as an enabler of the economy and therefore tabled the setup of a strong national air transport company and once in place this quickly connected Rwanda to markets overseas.
RwandAir, the national airline, currently has a fleet of 12 hi-tech and huge capacity aircrafts and has expanded its network beyond Africa to India, London, Europe and soon will be flying to USA.
But at the start of the twenty three years, the regulatory framework that is the supporting pillar of every aviation industry had to be put right for the needed international recognition and also the construction of standard airport facilities that were needed for standard operations to start and connect with the rest of the world.
In 2006, the first audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) set Rwanda’s aviation industry on the right track after it pointed out numerous deficiencies.
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA) had already been mandated by the Government of Rwanda to regulate the aviation industry and oversee the management of airport operations.
After the audit, a plan was immediately developed by RCAA to close the numerous gaps as soon as possible.
The following ICAO Coordinated Validation Mission (ICVM) audit in 2012 disclosed a different picture, that numerous deficiencies had been rectified.
It is in the same year that Turkish, Qatar and South African airlines started flight operations at Kigali International Airport (KIA)
Rwanda’s airports have over the years received a consistent annual passenger traffic rate of 13 percent and this indicated the need to consider the expansion of the airport facilities.
The traveler enjoying a spacious and well lit terminal building at Kigali International Airport
In 2012, an upgrade of Kigali International Airport worth $20m not only revealed an eye-catching architectural design, but the terminal building was decongested by doubling the departure’s eight check in desks, two more conveyor belt machines were installed to improve baggage handling efficiency and movement was made easy by installation of lifts and escalators as well as inclusion of facilities for people with disabilities. Both departure and arrival terminals which were distinctly separated can now receive 800 passengers per peak hour.
Ugraded Apron and runway at Kamembe Airport
On the airside, the runaway was resurfaced to comfortably accommodate large body aircraft, another apron, a brand new modernized hangar and two more taxiways were constructed to double the parking capacity and ensure that the general aviation operations are accommodated alongside the commercial traffic.
Expanded and spacious waiting area
And this was a major boost to the country’s MICE strategy because in May and June 2016, Rwanda was able to comfortably handle traffic that came with the hosting of the World Economic Forum and African Union Summit and other major conferences, meetings and exhibitions.
In all, over $50 million has been invested to raise the airport infrastructure at KIA.
Control Tower of the 1960s and Current Control Tower
Also, as the quality of service at Kigali international Airport (KIA) soars to greater heights, category two is in the pipeline where the runway will be upgraded to enable pilots to land in low visibility conditions. The upgrade is expected to be complete by the end of this year.
A state of the art New Bugesera International Airport is also in the pipeline.
Located 40km from the capital Kigali, the ultra-modern airport will be the appropriate answer to the consistent annual traffic increment as the pace of the national economy is expected to outgrow the current Kigali International Airport Facilities.
Other domestic aerodromes like Gisenyi and Kamembe, plans are underway to expand both their terminal buildings and airside capacities as domestic traffic also soars.
There has been a general replacement of the old technologies at Rwanda’s airports and introduction of new ones to ensure the prime objectives of safety, security and provision of quality services.
In ensuring reliable security, the latest gadgets by rapscan’s next generation two dimensional scanning technology were installed for baggage and body scanners as well as training of a special police unit was done to ensure efficient security.
On making sure that landings and takeoffs are safe for every passenger, a Birds Collision Avoidance System (BCAS) is operational at KIA to minimize incidents and accidents by birds.
The installation of the Birds Collision Avoidance System
Also, there has been the installation of an Automated Weather Observation System (AWOS) and Digital Automatic Terminal Information System (DATIS) that correspond to minimize human error in provision of reliable weather information to pilots and the recent introduction of the wind shear system.
Among in-house technology solutions, is the automated online clearance system that makes accessible landing and overflight permits in five minutes to aircrafts unlike before when it would take days to process.
Facilities also include a 40 ton cold room for perishable goods encouraging exportation of agricultural products by farmers.
Rwanda also embraced the use of drone technology by putting in place regulations in February 2016 to regulate drones and drone related activities. This consequently led to the construction of the first drone port in the world and currently, drone companies like Zipline are involved in a range of businesses in the country as well as saving lives by delivering blood and other lifesaving items to hospitals across the country in few minutes replacing cars that would take hours.
Zipline, a drone company, since they started operations on 14th October 2016 , over 1000 deliveries as well as 250 emergency deliveries have been made.
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority also uses the drone surveillance interface technology to ensure that activities between drones and aircrafts are monitored and maintain seamlessness.
Over the years, the growth of the aviation industry has also been catalyzed by an increasing number of bilateral relations with Rwanda having over 70 Bilateral Air Service Agreements (BASAs) with other nations in and out of Africa. The latter has availed a variety of market choices and exposure to the aggressively growing Rwandan private sector across the globe. According to the National Institute of Statistics Rwanda, the service industry in 2016 contributed 48 percent of total GDP and the aviation industry has made a contribution towards this growth.
A vibrant aviation sector is also facilitating tourism business in the country which is the 1st foreign exchange earner for the country. Rwanda received over 1300, 000 tourists in 2015 and earned $318m the same year.
And as Africa and the world increasingly become a global village, connectivity needs to be facilitated with an ever growing and innovative aviation sector that is why Rwanda was among the first eleven (11) African countries that have made a solemn commitment to the liberalization of air transport enshrined in the Yamoussoukro Declaration (YD). This number has increased to 20 countries.
International Air Transport Association (IATA) and other aviation organs with statistical proof have shown that with the implementation of YD connectivity amongst countries will increase positively impacting commerce and employment opportunities in the aviation industry.
According to a report released by IATA, failure to implement YD is denying a potential five million people from flying in Africa and making annual losses of $1.3bn and 155,000 job opportunities.
But Rwanda’s endeavors to improve the aviation sector has leap frogged the national airline from Africa to other continents as the regulatory and capacity improvements aggressively continue.