Rwanda’s aviation industry is slowly coming of age, and the country is positioning itself towards becoming an aviation hub for the region. To realise this plan, government has invested heavily in aviation infrastructure development, with over $17 million already spent on the upgrade of the Kigali International Airport and rehabilitation of Kamembe Airport.
These efforts have already paid off with the Kigali International Airport being ranked one of the best airports in the region. The government is also undertaking other key projects in the sector, including the impending expansion of Rubavu Airport in the Western Province, and construction of the proposed Bugesera International Airport, that are expected to turn around the aviation industry once they are completed.
The government also supports the national carrier, RwandAir, to make it more competitive on the continent.
However, Samil Said Karakas, the Turkish Airlines vice-president for sub-Saharan Africa and sales department chief, says Rwanda needs to invest more resources in infrastructure development, as well as support the local hospitality industry to achieve its dream of becoming an aviation hub. Business Times’ Peterson Tumwebaze caught up with Karakas in Istanbul, Turkey last week, and he talked about sector issues, especially the secrets of building a strong aviation industry that can drive the country’s economy.
Rwanda is trying to position itself as an aviation hub in Africa; what lessons can the country learn from Turkey to help it realise this ambitious plan?
First and foremost, it is important to note that the centre of aviation is moving from the West to the East, and as Africa begins to position itself as a major player, it is critical that countries like Rwanda invest more in the kind of infrastructure that will help support aviation business on the continent.
It is also critical to look at aviation as an important player in the economy that can spur growth. For instance, the sector is projected to contribute more than 7 per cent to Turkey’s national GDP this year from current 5.9 per cent. The same could also be true for Rwanda, and other African countries, if they invested more in infrastructure facilities that support the sector. For Rwanda, taking advantage of your geographical location is equally important for the country to become a centre for aviation.
Remember, passengers are ready to fly when they have facilities. More so, government has to be a partner and promote the industry. Note that having the right infrastructure alone is not enough, and should therefore be accompanied by efficiency, transparency and freedom for airlines to operate.
It is also imperative to invest in new technologies and innovations while putting in place accommodative regulatory environment to support the sector. You also have to invest in the service industry to attract more travellers that will help support your aviation industry.
What can RwandAir learn from Turkish Airlines’ story?
Generally, as an airline, understanding your customers’ profiles is critical because it helps you design products that best suit their needs. Increasing destinations and connectivity will also help an airline to maximise profitability, and be able to remain competitive. For instance, embracing non-stop flights means it is easy for passengers to travel which translates into increased traffic.
Turkish Airlines scrapped cargo flight services to Rwanda two years ago. Do you have plans of resuming the service soon?
Cargo potential varies from country to country with some countries presenting huge demand for cargo flights services. As an airline we try to invest in markets where the return is high… However, the challenge is that in some countries, the cargo potential is sometimes not stable, calling for re-deployment of equipment to other routes. Therefore, if Kigali shows more potential, we will definitely deploy a cargo plane to the route.