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Uganda Airlines has Monday launched its maiden flight to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as it readies to establish scheduled flights to the Gulf nation later this year.

The national carrier is carrying 200 Muslim citizens making the trip for the Hajj pilgrimage aboard its 258 capacity Airbus A330 aircraft.

“We have had our maiden flight to Jeddah, and this is the first time it has happened in 40 years. It is a very historic moment for the country and us as an airline,” Uganda Airlines chief executive officer Jennifer Bamuturaki said.

Ms Bamuturaki added that another 250 passengers would be flown to Jeddah on Tuesday.

Ugandan Muslim pilgrims have in the past been forced to connect through other countries for their pilgrimage, making the journey long, expensive and tedious.

Hajj is an at least once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all able-bodied Muslims of financial means to make. Some two to three million people participate in the six-day ritual annually.

About 50 Ugandans heading to Mecca were stranded at the Khartoum airport when the deadly Sudan war pitting generals broke out in April.

According to Ms Bamuturaki, the airline plans to establish scheduled flights between Uganda and Saudi Arabia by September this year.

“The operator’s permit that we currently have will go up to July next year and we shall extend it to July (the year after). On our scheduled flights, we have a plan to start flying to Jeddah in September and we shall be doing three flights a week,” she said.

Currently, the airline flies regional routes --Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, South Sudan capital Juba, Kinshasa in DR Congo, and Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. It also flies to Mogadishu, Somalia and Bujumbura in Burundi. - JONATHAN KAMOGA, The EastAfrican

 

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

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