The inaugural flight on the new Kigali-Guangzhou route had been fully booked by mid-day Monday. It had 234 passengers on board.
RwandAir Monday launched its long-awaited flights to the Chinese city of Guangzhou.
It was ecstasy as the Rwandan national carrier's Airbus A330 took off from the Kigali International Airport at exactly 00:52a.m, embarking on a 16-hour flight to China's third largest city.
The inaugural flight on the new Kigali-Guangzhou route had been fully booked by mid-day Monday. It had 234 passengers onboard, including State Minister for Transport Eng. Jean de Dieu Uwihanganye and RwandAir's chief executive Yvone Makolo.
RwandAir will be operating three flights to what is now its third Asian destination - after Dubai and Mumbai.
The flights will be making stopovers in India's commercial capital of Mumbai before making their way to Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangdong province.
Guangzhou becomes RwandAir's 28th destination and comes after the airline launched flights between Kigali and DR Congo's capital of Kinshasa in April.
A 29th route - to Israel's city of Tel Aviv - is on the horizon with the national carrier expected to open that route next week.
Guangzhou, known as the Canton City, is a port city northwest of Hong Kong on the Pearl River. It is one of the major shopping destinations for merchants, is known for popular tourist attractions such as the iconic Canton Tower and Guangzhou Chimelong Tourist Resort.
Speaking to The New Times on Monday, Zhang Wenping, the director of the political section at the Chinese Embassy in Rwanda, said the flights will make travel between the two countries shorter and more convenient.
"It has been taking up to 24 hours to travel from Kigali to Guangzhou, but the new route will reduce this time," she said.
She added that RwandAir's flights will make it easier for Chinese and Rwandan businesses and tourists to travel either direction, thus boosting economic activity between the two countries.
"I think this will be a catalyst for stronger tourism relations between China and Rwanda," she said. "We have noted that more and more Chinese are coming to Rwanda and can only expect more to come in the future especially now the new route makes travel easier."
In July last year Rwanda signed a raft of agreements with Beijing during Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to Rwanda - the first visit to the central African nation by any Chinese Head of State - to step up bilateral ties across various sectors, including civil aviation transport.
Later in July, the country also signed three deals with China's leading e-commerce conglomerate Alibaba Group to help scale up trade and tourism ties between the two countries.
The development is expected to boost Rwanda's reputation as a top investment destination, with Chinese companies initiating more than 21 projects, worth US$420 million (about Rwf363.5 billion), between 2006 and 2008, according to Rwandan government official figures.
In Rwanda, most Chinese investors are involved in tourism, mining, hospitality and construction, among other sectors.
Guangzhou, a major source of merchandise for the African market, including Rwanda, is regarded as China's transport, industrial and commercial hub.
Benjamin Gasamagera, a Rwandan businessman and former head of the country's private sector umbrella body, is one of the many Rwandan traders who deal in goods imported from China.
He told The New Times that the Kigali-Guangzhou flights will make it easier for people like him to travel and do business between the two countries.
"This is exciting for us because some of the biggest problems we have been facing recently are delays and cancellation of flights. There was no predictability of our travels and this was hurting business," he said.
"With RwandAir, it will be easier to be certain about when to travel and when to reach to the final destination. Even if there are delays and cancellation, it is easier to find out than using a foreign airline," he added.
Figures show that Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport was China's third-busiest and world's 13th-busiest airport by passenger traffic in 2017, handling 65,806,977 passengers that year alone.