National carrier, RwandAir will resume flights on August 1, after almost five months since the airline suspended operations due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which has taken a heavy toll on the industry.
According to RwandAir chief executive officer, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, the carrier has embarked on a gradual reopening strategy like many other airlines across the world.
“The number of routes will depend on which countries will have lifted their travel restrictions by then. We’ll start with those who are open,” she noted.
Even when countries fully open up, which will be determined by how much the novel coronavirus pandemic recedes, airlines will have to wait a little longer before passengers are confident enough to travel again.
Makolo said RwandAir will start with the African routes that are already open – the airline operates more destinations in Africa, flying to about 24 destinations across the region. For the long haul routes, she said, they will start with Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – one of the most lucrative business routes for the airline, where they previously operated daily flights.
The carrier experienced an increase in its passenger traffic to Dubai by about 17 per cent, and cargo by 38 per cent in the first seven months of 2019, according to Al Rais Travel that represents the airline in Dubai.
2020 is said to be the worst year in aviation history and airlines are in survival mode. Air travel demand has significantly decreased with little confidence from passengers.
A June survey by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) indicated that 58 per cent of people avoided air travel due to Covid-19, but the number expecting to continue to avoid air travel in the future could fall to 33 per cent.
“We’re rebuilding our business in the context of the new normal. Rebuilding passenger confidence that it’s safe to fly in the midst of the pandemic,” Makolo said.
RwandAir’s boss also highlighted that they are putting all health and safety measures in place across all touch points, asserting that the demand for air travel will grow gradually.
Experts predict it will, however, take a few years for the industry to get back to 2019 levels of activity.
Governments will, therefore, need to continue providing financial relief and assistance to airlines as well as flexibility in slot usage. The Government already announced it will increase funding to the national carrier to Rwf145.1 billion in the 2020-21 fiscal year, up from Rwf121.8 billion this financial year.
This is meant to help the airline to respond to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. The funds are also meant to facilitate the airline to continue its expansion plan, including the acquisition of new planes and opening new routes.