Rwanda: RwandAir Boss calls for a single African aviation market

Managing Director of national carrier RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, has underscored the need for a single and unified air transport market in Africa, saying it will take more commitment from governments across the continent.

Makolo made the call in an interview with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) earlier this week when asked about what it would take for aviation to recover in Africa.

She said there needs to be more support for aviation from governments. But this does not necessarily mean financial support.

“Now, more than ever, we need a single African aviation market”, she underlined, “We have talked about it all the time, but the time for discussions is over and we must continue to implement implemented”.

Makolo suggests that Africa needs to open up and African airlines need to have open skies and be able to fly wherever they want to meet travel demand.

“It would help address the biggest challenge we face in Africa outside of the pandemic, which is cost.”

Whether it’s the cost of visas, airport fees or aviation fuel taxes, she said, traveling to Africa can be extremely expensive.

“If the market opens up, competition will increase, which will lower prices and improve standards.”

The African market is largely under-exploited and its opening would be a significant boost for aviation, she reiterated.

The call comes at a time when IATA has seen a moderate rebound in passenger demand, mainly driven by the recovery in domestic markets.

“The performance is a positive development, but the resumption of international traffic remains stalled amid border closures and quarantine mandates,” IATA chief executive Willie Walsh noted in the agency’s latest report.

What RwandAir has in the pipeline

Makolo acknowledged that the national carrier had been affected by the pandemic, which had led to a reduction in the airline’s services.

But that, she says, allowed her to start growing again.

“We suspended thinner roads, but we also opened new roads, including Lubumbashi and Goma in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”

Makolo asserted that RwandAir’s growth will be organic, when asked about future plans, but stressed that the carrier expects to double its fleet over the next five years.

“Diversifying our sources of revenue will also be important. Freight will be a big part of that, as the African Continental Free Trade Area has been operational since the start of 2021.”

She said it is estimated that this will increase intra-African trade by more than 50% in the first year alone, and if the numbers are good it will remove tariffs on 90% of goods.

“We have to be ready to take advantage of this opportunity.”

The Need for a Diversified Industry

While it remains true that the industry recognizes diversity, there is still a long way to go.

Makolo hailed IATA’s 25by2025 initiative and several airlines that have been progressive, describing it as a step forward.

25by2025 is a voluntary campaign for IATA member airlines to improve female representation in the industry by 25% or to a minimum of 25% by 2025.

“Even so, we are not moving fast enough. There is so much more to be done, especially to bring women into leadership positions. I am always surprised when I attend industry events to see how male-dominated aviation is.”

She added: “It is very different in RwandAir and in Rwanda too. Our parliament is 61% women and our cabinet is over 50% women. It comes as a shock to me to see anything heavily biased the other way.

It was a conscious decision to give women more opportunities and to support them as they seized those opportunities, she said.

“We need to do something similar in aviation. We need to give women a chance, but then be proactive in providing the right framework for them to succeed.”

Makolo said that right now too many women feel they have to do more than their male counterparts to be offered the same opportunities or pay.

“There is no good reason for aviation to stand out as a male-dominated industry. Business is business. Women have a lot to offer,” she said.

RwandAir currently serves a total of 26 routes on the continent and beyond.

The airline also plans to operate additional flights to Doha, Qatar next month.