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Rwanda's President, Paul Kagame, announced that approximately 70% of the new Kigali airport is expected to be completed by the end of this year, with the aim of having the facility fully operational by the fourth quarter of 2024.

During the opening day of the third Qatar Economic Forum in Doha, the East African leader expressed gratitude for the strategic partnership between Rwanda and Qatar, describing Qatar as one of Africa and Rwanda's strongest allies. Kagame emphasised their collaboration in the airline and airport sectors, highlighting the progress being made to ensure readiness and efficiency.

Kagame stated: "RwandAir, our airline, is already thriving and expanding rapidly. As for the airport, we anticipate achieving around 70% completion by the end of this year. By the third or fourth quarter of the following year, we expect to witness substantial growth and operational functionality."

In February 2020, Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in RwandAir, followed by the signing of a codeshare agreement between the two airlines in 2021. Furthermore, Qatar Airways holds a significant 60% ownership in the new airport, demonstrating their commitment to the partnership. Qatar's national carrier also recently established its first cargo hub outside Doha in Kigali.

Kagame emphasised the importance of visionary leadership, especially for small countries, in the face of global circumstances. He highlighted the need to cultivate strategic partnerships, with Qatar being a prime example. Kagame expressed appreciation for Qatar Airways' expertise in the aviation sector and expressed a desire to explore other collaborative areas.

In addition, Kagame revealed that Rwanda, in collaboration with BioNTech, plans to commence vaccine manufacturing in August of this year. This initiative aims to enhance Rwanda's self-reliance in healthcare.

The Rwandan president also addressed efforts to achieve lasting stability in the crisis between Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Noting ongoing discussions led by the East African bloc and Angola, with the involvement of the African Union, Kagame expressed hope for a resolution. He did not rule out the possibility of future meetings with DRC President Felix Tshisekedi.

Just over a week ago, Rwanda launched a major new African cargo hub in partnership with Qatar Airways Cargo.

The new Kigali Cargo Hub is part of a long-term strategic plan for the cargo division of RwandAir, which has seen cargo carried rise by nearly 26% in the last five years.

The initiative will help RwandAir develop Kigali into a regional cargo powerhouse, boosting exports and imports around Africa and strengthening links with key overseas markets.

The partnership saw Qatar Aviation Services (QAS) provide consultancy support to RwandAir Cargo to help improve its already highly successful cargo handling performance.

Air cargo plays a critical role in the economic development of Africa by connecting African businesses to global markets and facilitating trade and commerce.

Last year, Rwanda’s national carrier RwandAir took delivery of a Boeing 737-800 SF, the airline’s first cargo-dedicated aircraft.

Delivered on November 24, 2022, the freighter now operates from the airline’s hub in Kigali and has expanded its cargo operation to destinations in Africa and the Middle East.

At the time of delivery, Yvonne Makolo, CEO of RwandAir, said the new freighter would go on to play a significant role in RwandAir’s operations. “The delivery of our dedicated cargo aircraft is a huge milestone in RwandAir’s fleet expansion plans,” Makolo explained. “Cargo is of ever-increasing importance for the aviation industry, and as a landlocked country, we recognise the importance and value of good cargo connections,” Makolo added.

RwandAir aims “to ensure that Africa is seamlessly connected to the world, driving economic growth and valuable trade deals,” Makolo said.

Qatar is seen as a strategic partner to Rwanda and the relations between the two countries have witnessed steady growth since establishing the diplomatic relations in 2017. Since then, the leaders of the two countries have met on a regular basis, and the exchanged high-level visits between the two sides have contributed to boosting joint co-operation in various vital fields and enhancing the partnership between the two countries. Qatar’s Amir His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani visited Rwanda in April 2019 and made another visit in June 2022 to participate in the 26th Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Kigali. Meanwhile, the Rwanda president has paid multiple visits to Doha.

The Qatar Investment Authority anchor $250mn investment into the Virunga Africa Fund is further evidence of Qatar's growing interest in Africa. In 2021, Qatar also acquired a 50% stake in 800 MWs of renewable projects in South Africa and Zambia and made a $200mn investment in fintech platform Airtel Mobile Commerce. -


Panic gripped Kahama airport in Tanzania's Shinyanga region on Monday morning over a private plane crash said to have killed at least 10 passengers in what turned out to be an accident drill.

The airport manager, Hamza Kiemo, issued an initial report saying the Garet 5Q ATM aircraft, travelling from Rwanda to Mozambique via Dar es Salaam with 42 passengers and crew on board, had tried to make an emergency landing at around 9 am but crashed and burst into flames a few metres from the runway.

Police, military and fire brigade personnel were seen mounting a rescue operation as residents of nearby areas milled around the crash site in a state of shock. Twenty-three people were reported injured, while nine escaped unhurt.

After the preliminary report went viral, Kahama District Commissioner Mboni Mhita released a statement describing the incident as a “planned drill” designed by the Tanzania Airport Authority (TAA) to measure preparedness for plane accidents at airports across the country.

“The truth of the matter is that no plane crash actually happened,” Ms Mhita said. “TAA conducts these drills every two years or so to check airport contingency set-ups for emergencies of any kind, and for the exercise to be authentic, a realistic scenario is necessary.”

She also confirmed that the airport manager's earlier report was part of the drill.

Aviation accident

Tanzania is still reeling from its worst aviation accident in decades -- a Precision Air plane crashed in Lake Victoria, killing 19 people in November last year. The incident received widespread criticism for the lack of preparedness for such disasters.

In a report, Air Accident Investigation Branch (AAIB), a state agency, highlighted factors including delays in mounting rescue operations and the absence of a control tower at Bukoba airport where the ATR 42-500 turboprop aircraft was aiming to land before it plunged into the lake just 500 metres away.

The AAIB was 24 hours later trashed by Works and Transport Minister Prof Makame Mbarawa, who said it should be “ignored because it did not come from authoritative government channels.” - BOB KARASHANI, The EastAfrican


National carrier Air Tanzania is weighing its options in bridging the emerging service gap caused by the grounding of its Airbus A220 fleet due to engine problems.

According to fleet data, one of ATCL’s A220 last flew on January 3, this year and has been parked at Maastricht Aachen Airport in The Netherlands. A second aircraft that has been on the tarmac in Dar es Salaam last flew on August 27. A third A220 has not flown since November 5.

The development, which is not unique to Air Tanzania, adds to the uncertainty faced by operators over timeframes for return to service of its fleet, as groundings add to a backlog of engines that require replacement or repair by the manufacturer.

Launch customer

Air Tanzania was the African launch customer for the A220 then Air Senegal, Egypt Air before Nigeria’s Ibom Air came on board.

On November 10, Air Tanzania Company Ltd (ATCL) announced flight schedule disruptions, citing the unavailability of some of its A220s, owing to manufacturer’s directives that have shortened the service intervals on the Pratt & Whitney PW1524G-3 engine.

"Due to the worldwide technical challenges of these engines and related safety requirements, we have been following professional instructions to provide quality and safety service. Sometimes we take the aircraft out of circulation to meet the demands of the engine manufacturers," the airline said in a public notice.

Air Senegal has also had to pull its A220s from service due to a similar crisis. Besides regional flights to Johannesburg, ATCL’s A220s have been operating on some of the high-density domestic routes such as Mwanza and Kilimanjaro.

Extra inspections

The PW1500G and PW1900G engines, which power the Airbus A220 and the Embraer E2 series respectively, have recently been subjected to extra inspections, in the wake of inflight shutdowns that were traced to premature wearing of certain parts.

European and American regulators issued two airworthiness directives (ADs) in January and July this year. The first requires the removal and replacement of the high-pressure turbine first and, second, stage disks. The second directive requires more frequent borescope inspections of the low-pressure compressor rotor 1. Borescope inspections are a type of visual inspection that examine hard-to-reach or inaccessible components without taking them apart.

The July AD had been also been issued in 2021 after inflight shutdowns in two Airbus A220s. These incidents were traced to a software problem and the compressor intermediate case. Pratt & Whitney addressed the problem with an update of the full authority digital electronic control software and a redesign of the affected part. However, the Federal Aviation Administration and European Union Aviation Safety Agency require operators to conduct frequent borescope inspections and replacement of the low-pressure compressor rotor 1 for safety. Although the directives stem from an incident on an International Aero Engines V2500 engine on an Airbus A321ceo, the newer Pratt & Whitney PW1500G for the Airbus A220 and the PW1900G powering the Embraer E2 series are affected because they share parts with similar materials.

Pratt & Whitney recently acknowledged the problems, telling London-based publication AirInsight: “Like many in the industry, we have experienced supply-chain challenges with structural castings and other parts. We continue to work on mitigation strategies with our supply base and expect pressures to begin to ease in 2023, which will support both our original equipment and maintenance repair and overhaul output plans.”

New engines vs spares

With hundreds of engines booked by major Western operators, the manufacturer is torn between supplying engines for new aircraft coming off the assembly line and providing spares for the grounded fleet. To give an idea of the extent of the challenge, Pratt & Whitney says that in China, for example, there are 280 aircraft in service that are powered by the affected engines.

In Dar es Salaam, ATCL chief executive Ladislaus Matindi said he cannot tell when the affected aircraft will return to service because their engines have not got to a point where they are slotted in the queue for repairs. He said they have no option but to be patient because the problem is not particular to Air Tanzania, but rather global.

"We are still far down in the manufacturer’s queue for repairs. Until the engines are in the repair shop, we cannot know exactly when we shall get relief, he told AirInsight. And because this problem is not particular to Air Tanzania but applies to all users of these engines, there are not even enough spare engines available to keep us going during the repairs."

Operators have adopted a wait-and-see because, while the new engines are giving them headache, they offer a step change, delivering double-digit reduction in fuel burn. This is crucial at a time of high prices for aviation fuel and pressures to reduce emissions by the industry. Mr Matindi said engine problems aside, the A220 has more than delivered on its promise of lower fuel burn.

Although its purchase agreements with Pratt & Whitney entitle it to compensation, ATCL says it is in talks to lease aircraft to bridge the gap in the fleet because compensation would not match the revenue lost from the suspended services or be enough to lease replacement aircraft.

12 aircraft

Air Tanzania currently operates a fleet of 12 aircraft: One Bombardier Dash 8-Q300, five Bombardier Dash 8-Q400s, four Airbus A220-300s and two Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners. Five more planes are expected to arrive before the end of 2023, expanding the fleet to 17. The additional planes will comprise another Dash 8-Q400, another Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner, two Boeing 737 Max-9s and one specification-based Boeing 767-300F Freighter. The carrier operated 48 daily flights to 14 domestic and 10 international destinations before the latest notice. Regular internal routes from its Julius Nyerere International Airport hub are Dodoma, Kilimanjaro, Mwanza, Zanzibar, Kigoma, Geita, Mbeya, Mtwara, Bukoba, Songea, Tabora, Iringa, Arusha and Mpanda.

Its international routes cover Mumbai (India), Lubumbashi (DR Congo), Nairobi (Kenya), Hahaya (Comoros), Ndola and Lusaka (Zambia), Harare (Zimbabwe), Bujumbura (Burundi) and Entebbe (Uganda). A twice-weekly flight to Guangzhou (China) was added in July 2022. The airline has also outlined plans to start flying to Lagos (Nigeria), Accra (Ghana) and Juba (South Sudan), and resume flights to Dubai (UAE) and Johannesburg (South Africa) once the new aircraft arrive next year.

According to Mr Matindi, it has also re-applied for landing slots at London's Gatwick Airport after losing them in 2020 due to legal hitches resulting from aviation industry restrictions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Flight frequency

The two Dreamliners are currently used to service the flights to Mumbai (three times a week, with plans to increase the frequency to four times a week by the end of this year, according to the management) and Guangzhou while the working Airbuses mainly ply the regional routes. The new challenges come at a time when ATCL has continued to tout its ambitious plan for international routes expansion despite being flagged twice in recent government audit reports for continuing to rack up huge operational losses under an expensive revival programme initiated by former president John Magufuli in 2016.

The latest of these reports issued by the Controller and Auditor General (CAG) ranked the carrier sixth among government firms with the biggest debts by the end of the 2020/2021 fiscal year. According to the report published in April this year, Air Tanzania's debt stood at $132.77 million even after cutting its operating losses from $25.97 million in 2019/2020 to $15.58 million.

The two Dreamliners caused a loss of $10.21 million in 2020/2021 due to a low load factor as their international flights programme was beset by pandemic restrictions and other hurdles.

Profits of $5.3 million and $5.23 million for the two working Airbus A220s and four Dash 8-Q400s respectively contributed to its reduced loss figures but failed to allow for a break-even performance, the report said.

Critically unprofitable

The previous year's CAG report had also placed ATCL among government-owned entities that were proving to be critically unprofitable, pointing out further that accrued interest on its rising debt increased the risk of its planes being impounded abroad in lieu of payment. These figures coincided with a Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) report that said ATCL passenger numbers had dropped by 50 percent to 2.8 million in 2020, compared with the previous year, owing to Covid-19 impact on global air travel. The combined findings prompted President Samia Suluhu Hassan to sanction a $194 million government bailout in April to help the airline clear its growing debts and get back to the skies at least in the short-term. The Magufuli revival plan required Air Tanzania to lease its entire fleet from the state-run Tanzania Government Flight Agency, pay government levies and cover aircraft maintenance costs from its own coffers.

This has become a key point of discussion about Air Tanzania's future prospects, with the airline's management contending that the leasing arrangement with TGFA prevents it from making its own business decisions for more profitable operations.

The airline's calls for a re-negotiation of the lease terms or restoration of direct fleet ownership have received the backing of a parliamentary committee that oversees its affairs.

The committee on September 6 submitted a report urging the government to "speed up" the process of transferring ownership of the planes from TGFA to ATCL in order to remove the leasing costs and stem further losses. - MICHAEL WAKABI, The EastAfrican

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