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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Rwandair Express Acquires New Aircraft

The East African -- Rwanda’s national carrier Rwandair Express, has moved to stave off imminent collapse by acquiring newer aircraft that are more fuel-efficient and serve its routes better.

The airline, which has been operating a single 140 seat MD 82 on all its four routes, this month introduced a 36-seat Dash 8-200 to augment its thin but essential services to Entebbe and Bujumbura. The aircraft has been taken on a short-term lease from Ethiopia-based Midroc Corporation and will be replaced as soon as a more appropriate aircraft has been secured.

Rwandair acting chief executive officer Pierre Claver Kabera said although the lease on the 23-year-old MD82 had been extended by six months to January 2006, they expect to have acquired a Boeing 737-300 to operate trunk routes such as Nairobi and Johannesburg by then. The carrier is also looking for an Embraer 120 to replace the Dash-8 in a few months' time. The carrier, which considers services to Entebbe obligatory, offers four flights a week to Entebbe but business has been difficult because of passenger numbers that are more suited for a small aircraft.

Its regional network was expanded last September, with the launch of services to Bujumbura and Kilimanjaro and addition of a fourth frequency to Entebbe but the operations have been loss-making because the 140 seat MD82, which is too big for the routes, was being used. Mr Kabera says that while the aircraft was acquired on the strength of a good trade-off between payload and range, especially on routes to Johannesburg and Nairobi, which generate a significant amount of cargo, it was now being abandoned in favour of the smaller but more fuel-efficient B737-300.

Business has been weak on the Johannesburg route because the market did not quite take to the MD82, which many saw as inherently unsafe because of its advanced age. Like the MD82, all the planned acquisitions will be wet leased because "Rwanda lacks the tooling and mechanics to maintain types such as the Embraer and Boeing 737 in the country."

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