Dr. Richard Masozera is the director Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority, he told Business Times' Peterson Tumwebaze the driving factors behind Rwanda's aviation business success and how the industry is positioning itself to benefit from the East African Community integration.
Question: Rwanda's aviation industry is growing fast; what are the driving factors behind this growth?
Answer: The aviation industry is not isolated from the rest of the economy; the industry is only benefiting from the overall growth of the economy.
We are also looking at making the industry a business that will spur the growth of the general economy in years to come.
However, the major driver for our growth came in 2008 when government moved towards revamping the industry by investing in the national airline (RwandAir) and also allocated huge sums of money to upgrade aviation infrastructure.
The Government policy and sector laws have also made it easy for the industry to attract more air traffic, boosting its growth.
As a result, the number of passengers passing through Kigali International Airport has grown from about 280,000 arrivals five years ago to 500,000 passengers last year. This year, we project the figure to hit 600,000 passengers.
The airport has attracted more international airlines, including KLM, Turkish Airlines, Brussels, Qatar Airline, South Africa Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and Air Uganda.
So what are you doing to deal with the increased air traffic?
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority has been forced to reposition itself to meet this demand by expanding aviation infrastructure.
We are aware that for the airport to handle more than 600,000 passengers annually is way above its current capacity of 300,000 passengers. That's why we are expanding our infrastructure, including the ongoing expansion project at the Kigali International Airport. When the expansion project is completed in May next year, the airport will be able to handle over 1.5 million passengers annually.
The expansion will also double our departures and arrivals, and provide more space for modern lounges which will change passengers' experience and make the industry more competitive.
With Africa's aviation industry growing at the global level, we are looking at a much tighter and more competitive business. That's why we are developing Bugesera Airport.
How will Bugesera Airport change the dynamics of the local aviation industry?
As airlines and passengers look for more convenient airports and business hubs that can offer better facilities, Rwanda is positioning itself to tap into those opportunities. One way is to have an ultramodern and more competitive international airport.
Bugesera Airport will be the answer when it is completed in 2017.
With a huge cargo centre at the facility, and airlines flying to some of our potential markets around the world, it will greatly boost our exports industry and the country's economic growth. We are also talking of attracting small industries in the area, a railway line and a free trade zone. It will spark a lot of developments, not only in the aviation industry, but across all sectors of the economy.
What are some of the challenges hindering your progress?
The aviation industry is a resource intensive sector in terms of human resource and finances. For any small investment, we are talking of millions of dollars.
There is also the skills gap challenge. It takes long to train pilots, which creates a skills gap, making it more expensive to hire foreign pilots.
The East African Community (EAC) integration is being fast-tracked, how do you think this will impact the aviation business?
The EAC integration will be a game changer for the aviation industry. With the single visa and free movement of people, commodities and services across the region, we are likely to see the number of passengers, especially tourists and businessmen coming to Rwanda, increase.
The question now is how do we make air transport affordable for the passengers so that movement across the region becomes much easier, while also making profits as an industry.
Rwanda is trying to improve its medical services to become a medical hub in the region, where people will be flying in for medical tourism. Through this, we shall be able to kill two birds with one stone, develop our tourism industry while expanding the aviation business, too.
What are you are doing to harmonise the aviation business at regional level?
We are currently discussing how to co-ordinate air transport as per EAC vision for the aviation sector. We are also looking at how we can enhance aviation infrastructure development and safety standards, as well as harmonise some of the aviation regulations in the region.
Talking of safety standards, what are you doing to ensure that as the industry grows, it does not compromise safety?
Through the East African Aviation Corporation, we have a safety guidance Act that guides us on regional safety standards. The Act guides us on technical standards and basic operational issues. We are also emphasising on technical knowhow so that the industry employs skilled and experienced pilots and also opens up opportunities for our people to enroll for aviation courses.
We are also encouraging airlines to operate smaller aircraft; this we believe will make aviation business more attractive and competitive.
With several bilateral air services agreement in place and open sky policies we are signing, our aviation industry will be boosted further.
EAC member states have delayed signing of open sky policies among themselves, why?
We are trying to have it achieved... However, beyond what the environment can offer, there is a private investment interest member states are trying to protect, this may affect the progress. However, with the political will we are seeing, our technical teams will be able to overcome these obstacles soon.
Where do you see this industry in next 15 years?
The aviation industry will be the driving force of our economy. It will create more employment opportunities for our people, who will no longer be looking at the sector as an alien business, but as an investment. This will spark economic growth across all sectors of the economy.