Ten Years of a Dream Come True

On the eve of its 10th anniversary, RwandAir faced unprecedented challenges. Analysts say this is typical of any airline that is growing in passenger numbers in the face of a struggling competition. The differentiated service offering is setting the pace and travellers are joining in huge amounts. Once the airline is able to control this flow analysts say they are now in the play field and sky is the only limit there is.

We will review a dream over the ten years that it has been forming, and paint a picture of the amazing journey RwandAir has covered in the land of a thousand opportunities. We will also look at forecasts over the next ten years.

Brief History
RwandAir, the national airline of the Republic of Rwanda, has garnered a lot of attention in the past 3 years since 2009. So much that the airline has earned the proud moniker of “the Fastest Growing Airline in Africa”; by many accounts this is true considering the short period in which this growth took place.

In December of 2002 when the airline was registered under the name of Rwandair Express the government of Rwanda had decided to take a firm responsibility to boost the aviation industry. Since the end of the 1994 genocide of Tutsis there had been a couple of attempts to reboot the once called “Air Rwanda” out of the ruins left by the genocide.

Privately held companies and investors showed interest and formed Alliance Express which served destinations to neighbouring countries mainly and to South Africa. As it turns out the alliance did not strive and some investors pulled out, leaving the company on the brink of collapse.

In 2002 Rwandair Express was formed, funded by government initiatives with at its head Florence Nkera (RIP) who was the first woman to head a national airline in the history of Rwanda. At that time a lot of external expertise was required to build up the core business processes and to train the human capital that was invested. Seven years of first steps and hard work brought some results, albeit with a few missed opportunities and an entirely leased and old fleet.

In 2009 a tragic accident at the Kanombe airport sealed the fate of the airline after a taxied aircraft accidentally drove full throttle into a building, causing the death of one passenger and injuring a few. That is when the brand name was changed to RwandAir and it was decided that the airline would stop being a fleet borrower and become a fleet owner and operator. Fast forward to today and you have an amazingly powerful airline in the East African skies offering top quality service to a market largely saturated by Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.

Since 2009, RwandAir built a reputation of being a time-keeper and offering affordable fare prices to most capital cities in eastern Africa while operating a young, state-of-the-art fleet. Passenger numbers would double each year as the airline acquired new aircraft and opened new destinations. Today the airline operates a fleet composed of four Boeing 737 NG series, two CRJ-900 NextGen and one Dash-8 and serves all major cities in the EAC (East African Community), three cities in western Africa, Lagos, Libreville and Brazzaville, Johannesburg in South Africa, and Dubai the only destination out of the continent. All these achievements, however, come at a high cost and RwandAir has had to pay the price in many different ways, among which a forecasted risk is that has affected a number of customers from December of 2012 to mid-February, 2013.

The Challenge with Growing Fast In December of 2012, as the airline was celebrating its 10th anniversary, a new schedule was introduced to increase its frequencies to key regional destinations and to offer better and quicker connections at its Kigali hub. The schedule however greatly reduced the turnaround period, giving very little time to ground services to service an aircraft for its next destination. Fuel costs that take up to 40% more in Kigali compared to the rest of the region, topped by maintenance and outsourced engineering costs once again tested and tried the airline.

Decision makers were faced with challenges to meet the high demand while mitigating the costs. The airline had seen this coming, especially with the rise of fuel prices, and decided to proceed head on and ensure customer loyalty was not to be compromised. The calculated risks taken would range from cancelling flights, delaying departures,  to transferring passengers to other airlines or offering accommodations to inconvenienced travelers during the busy Christmas season. December is a busy month for any airline, including RwandAir as the following testimonies try to paint each a different perspective.

RwandAir Staff Share their Stories

Charity Mupenzi

Purser, flight attendant

Aimée Gloria Mukasine

Customer support services

Manuel Rendo

Flight captain

Q –What is the most important aspect in providing service quality?

To honor everybody’s demand. Passengers are very different in their needs sometimes. As a fast growing airline, we fly to ever more destinations and getting more travelers from all these markets we serve. Most of our travelers are actually used to world-class cabin services and we must meet their demands.

Q – What service levels do you follow for each of your flights?

It actually depends on the particular flight. We have 4 different service levels: starting with short flight to Bujumbura and Kamembe where the limited flight time does not justify the service that we can give to destinations with slightly longer flight time such as Nairobi and Entebbe. There is simply not enough time to give everybody a meal. On the other hand we fly 6 hours to Dubai where we serve extensive meals and entertainment, and by me going through the cabin offering complementary beverages.

Q – What do you like most about your job with the fastest growing airline in Africa?

I like travelling, seeing lots of different places, meeting different cultures, etc. In certain places we get to leave the airport and spend a day just waiting for our next flight. RwandAir is young but growing really fast. Seeing places is an amazing experience to have for a young and dynamic generation, there is so much out there that Rwanda cannot wait to discover.

Q –What is the most important aspect in providing service quality?

To provide consistency throughout my shifts. I get to work on short turnarounds, long turnarounds. A hundred passengers,15 passengers. It is very busy for a whole hour, and then very quiet the next two. Quality cannot be compromised although I’m not able to give each passenger the same amount of attention.

Q – Kigali airport is pretty small and gets congested for every arrival or departure. How do you maintain service quality?

Most of these disruptions are beyond our control. Bad weather for example can get an entire flight cancelled. Or when there is a delay at one airport and the same aircraft is expected to take passengers to other destinations, I have the difficult task to inform of these changes. At all times we tell our customers the truth, with all possible alternatives available to ensure that their travel plans are not disrupted much. And each case is dealt with to completion, so we can focus on the next case at hand. Day and night we work hard to avoid that no single case is repeated a second time.

Q – What’s your message of hope to customers that turn your services away?

We deeply apologize to them for the inconvenience caused. Any other airline goes through the same things but we feel RwandAir is chosen over the rest for a lot of good reasons that we keep on improving and getting better. It is a journey.

Q –What is the most important aspect in providing service quality?

I always try my best to take off on time. It’s that simple.

Q – But you are not always successful?

Correct. Sometimes these delays are beyond our control. Aviation is a complex industry, very dynamic with many different stakeholders that are required to all work together closely to allow an aircraft to depart on time. In other cases delays are entirely our fault because, for the case of RwandAir, growing fast requires more resources and we unfortunately get hit first before we can improve our operational efficiency. Planning ahead of time is a tedious task in this kind of environment. Another reason is that we only have one runway in Kigali and no taxiway. That often means that we have to wait 20 – 30 minutes for departure, because another aircraft is coming in to land.

Q – Do you interfere with particular passenger issues during boarding and/ or cruising?

Normally not my responsibility but I trust the crew is well trained to handle all that. This is why they rarely call for my intervention. Of course from the cockpit we keep passengers informed about all relevant issues to their flight. This is very important and part of the service. We give weather information; mention the route, our estimated arrival time and I very much like pointing out touristic hotspots if we pass by en route, such as Mount Kilimanjaro on our way to Dar es Salaam.

Written by: Robert Nsinga, head of corporate communications at RwandAir

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