As nation reconciles with itself, a successful transition helps Rwanda recover from past wounds

Airport Authority

Mr. John Nkongoli
Managing Director

Contact details:
Tel: +250-83441 / 85845
Fax: +250-82609

The main objective of the airport is to become in 2004 the main sub-hub of the region. Obviously, the central location of Rwanda within the Great Lakes region is an advantage to the country, but what will be the factors that will enable the airport to reach its objectives?
That is a vision that we have established for the airport as we feel the potential is there. First because of our geographical location. Second we have to have to face the problem of being a landlocked country and the fact that ground connections are not very efficient. So, we feel we have to develop air transportation as an alternative. But, in order to achieve this objective, we need to upgrade our services in order to become as competitive as our neighbors. So, the drive is there, the support from the government is there and the challenge is now to provide services that will attract operators. Of course, we are starting from a disadvantaging position because of the heavy destructions of facilities and equipment we faced during the war. But we are strongly determined to bring our services up to international standards. So, we want airlines operating this region to use Kigali International Airport as their main getaway to the region. In that end, we have secure a loan from the European Investment Bank also supported by a grant from the European Development Fund. Both amount to a total of 19 million Euros and the Airport Authorities will invest 2 million Euros. Those funds will be directed towards improving infrastructure, re-surface the runaway, update the lighting, build a new tax way and navigation equipment.

What is your time frame for the completion for this project?

We have already started with the replacement of some of the navigation and communication equipment. We have mandated a French Engineering consulting company to prepare a tender document and by January 2003, works will actually start for a two-year period during which we will continue our operations of course. So, once we are through with the project, we will definitely offer competitive services and hope it will attract more operators, especially from the cargo sector for example. If you look at our location, we are closer to eastern Congo, southern Uganda, western Zaire than those regions are from their respective international airports. So, with the border control relaxed within the framework of the East African Community we feel we can provide better services than our competitors in the region, even with Bujumbura.

Can you describe with a few figures the importance of the airport activity in terms of traffic, number of passengers per annum, aircraft movements?

We have 285 employees, a number of passengers of approximately 130,000. In terms of aircraft movements, we have around 11,000 per annum. Cargos are close to 5,000 tons.
Sabena, which used to operate direct flights from Brussels to Kigali went bankrupt last year and stopped their activities for a few month. But this had a very small impact on our business as Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines increased their flight frequency. Of course, it was not convenient for passengers coming from Europe who had to stop in Nairobi or Addis Ababa, but today Sabena has been replaced by Brussels Airlines and has restarted operating direct flights, and we are very happy about it. However, our revenues remain relatively small: around USD 5 million. But we are financially self sufficient, we do not get any subsidies from the government.
As we mention Brussels Airline reopening its route to Kigali, do you have projects to open new routes in future with other airline companies?

There are two freight cargos interested in operating flights to Kigali. Also, Alliance Express Rwanda is studying the possibility to operate with British Airways direct flights to Kigali. Otherwise, we have a few other operators such as South African Airways, Air Burundi.
When we established the Rwanda Airport Authority it was more like a parastatal organisation as we had to answer to the Minister. But the government has decided to set up a Civil Aviation Authority. International civil aviation experts have just completed the study and they recommend having this new authority managed by a CEO who will have to answer to a board of directors. So, it would operate autonomously. Those experts propose that the airport's operations come under the CAA.

In the medium run, do you plan to extend your infrastructure through the creation of an export-processing zone?

We are currently looking into this project in order to improve our cargo services. We unfortunately don't have the funds available now but this at the top of our priority list and we are in discussion with the African Development Bank. It is important for us to increase our cargo services as the cargo companies operating are increasing their flights. We have Martin Air, KenCargo, MK Airlines. We know the potential and those operators would not be increasing their frequencies if there were no business.

Peronally, how would you envision the image and activity of your airport within five years time?

I would like to see more operators, more aircrafts movements. Once our facilities get upgraded, we should be able to increase our aircraft movements by 30%. Also, the government is focusing on developing ICT in the country as well as providing highly skilled people to the various sectors of the economy, and we should obviously benefit from this progress.

Also, can you tell more about your main professional achievements and personal challenges over the next few months?

My whole career has been related to aviation. I started in aircraft technology. Then I worked in Egypt, in Canada and then I moved to various positions as an engineer, technical representative supporting global fleets. This gave me the opportunity to travel a lot, especially in Europe. In fact, my family fled from Rwanda when I was eleven years old. But, after the war in '94, I felt I had to come back to my country and participate in its reconstruction. So, I got appointed here in '99 in order to raise the airport up to international standards and create a civil aviation authority. Those are my two main goals and once we manage to achieve them, I would feel that I brought a tangible contribution to improving civil aviation in Rwanda and to the reconstruction of my country.

NB : Winne shall not be responsible for unedited transcriptions.

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