The move by RwandAir to start direct commercial flights to Mumbai, India in quarter two of the year will ease market access and help reduce transport costs, the business community and experts have said. It could also boost tourism arrivals, they added.
The development follows the signing of bilateral air services agreements between Rwanda and India during the 8th Vibrant Gujarat Summit, a global business forum in India, early this week, paving way for the commencement of the flights.
John Mirenge, the RwandAir chief executive officer, said all the paperwork had been completed, noting that the national carrier was already preparing to launch the long haul flights to India as planned. “The plan now is to begin operations into Mumbai in April 2017,” Mirenge added.
Boosting trade, tourism
The government is trying to facilitate exporters to find new export markets as part of efforts aimed at reducing the country’s trade deficit and strengthen the country’s foreign exchange reserve cover.
Experts believe the move by RwandAir to start direct flights to Mumbai will be pivotal in deepening trade between the two countries, as well as helping boost tourism arrivals from India and Asia generally.
Patrick Gakuru, a Kigali-based importer, said direct flights to Mumbai (India’s financial and commercial capital) will also enhance competitiveness of the country’s exports besides reducing the cost of doing business. “It is a welcome move that will reduce the cost of doing business between Rwanda and India and also grow our exports to India,” he said.
Gakuru urged local exporters to exploit the opportunity and open new market linkages with India, one of the world’s most populous nation with over 1.3 billion people.
Alex Macheras, a global aviation expert, urged the private sector to take full advantage to boost business and investments in the region. “For trade to thrive between Rwanda and India you must have efficient connectivity…In this case, RwandAir has come in to plug the existing gap that was making it hard for Rwandans and the region to do business with Asia. Therefore, the private sector, particularly exporters, should take advantage of this and look for new markets,” he said.
Geoffrey Kamanzi, the Private Sector Federation director for trade facilitation and negotiations, said the move could fuel foreign direct investment from East Asia and create new markets for Rwanda’s exports in Asia. Bilateral trade between Rwanda and India is currently estimated at $526 million.
According to the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Rwanda registered 66 investment projects from India between 2011 and 2016 valued at $317.5 million, creating over 3,800 jobs in various fields, including telecoms, hospitality, health and education.
Rwanda imported goods worth $33.02 million from India during the third quarter of 2016, according to available figures.
Cutting flight time, cost
Passengers presently pay about $1,000 to $2,000 on ordinary airlines to India, but the airfare can be as much as over $3,000 on five-star carriers. It takes 7½ hours to India on a direct flight and up to nine if one makes a stopover in Qatar or Nairobi, Kenya. So, when direct flights to Mumbai by RwandAir start in April, business people and other travelers will be able to cut on travel time and expenses.
New equipment, new routes
Last year, the airline acquired its first A330-200 and A330-300 Airbus planes, boosting its fleet to 12 aircraft and capacity to compete globally. The airline carried more than 650,000 passengers last year and projects to ferry over three million in the next five years.
Meanwhile, the IATA Operational Safety Audit certified airline is planning to start flights to Gatwick, London’s second-busiest airport this year, as well as to America’s financial capital of New York, and Harare, Zimbabwe, among others. RwandAir presently operates 19 routes, including Cotonou, Abidjan, Nairobi, Entebbe, Mombasa, Bujumbura, Lusaka, Juba, Douala, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Dubai, Lagos, Libreville and Brazzaville.