Over the past few months, the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority has been carrying out a rigorous program of expanding Kigali International Airport. What was a small, old looking structure has now been turned into a plush, bigger facility with better services that have amazed all travellers.
The ServiceMag met Dr.Richard Masozera, RCAA Director General,and below are excerpts from the interview.
TSM: The upgrade of Kigali International Airport (KIA) is nearing its completion. How has the project progressed over the past few months?
Masozera: The current expansion of KIA has cost $17.8 million and we are nearing the end of the 18 month project which we hope to complete by the end of August. The design was done by a British firm TPS that has done expansion work for Heathrow Airport terminal 5 in London, Oliver Tambo in Johannesburg, and Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa.
TSM: What was the reason behind the expansion?
Masozera: The vision of the government is to have a service-oriented economy focusing on tourism, financial services and information technology among others. Plans are underway to make Rwanda an aviation hub. Because of our position in the region, Kigali is a strategic link for eastern and central Africa to the west. Also, aviation is growing significantly in Africa and Rwanda will not miss out on participating in building the ‘Africa we want’.
RwandAir has a big vision. Initially it had about five routes but it now flies to almost 15 destinations from Kigali. God willing we shall fly to Abidjan and Cote d’Ivoire soon.
So the expansion of the airport facilitates RwandAir headquarters or the hub to keep up with the expanding airline numbers and route network.
TSM: What will the airport’s capacity be after the project is completed?
Masozera: After expansion, this airport should comfortably handle 1.5 million passengers annually. We shall have attained an acceptable level of requirements by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). IATA describes the kind of airports countries should have in order to receive passengers and enable them have a good experience.There are a minimum number of check-in desks, luggage desks you should have and time spent checking in an individual passenger. Also, the first bag should hit the luggage belt in five to ten minutes on arrival.
We expect to have six gates after expansion and considering the rising trends, next year we may have to expand by another four gates to deal with the increasing numbers and destinations.
TSM: How many passengers are you looking at handling annually in the next few years and how are you planning to achieve this?
Masozera: 1.5 million passengers annually in the next four to five years. Beyond five years we are planning on Bugesera Airport. Although we are expanding KIA we still need Bugesera because KIA’s location has limitations. The terrain is hilly and there are many activities going on around it. We may also need to add a second runway to it in a few years, as we shall have more aircraft coming in and taking off. There are limitations to how many aircrafts we can hold in the air when we have a lot of activity taking place on the ground.
Bugesera airport will be in an area which is geographically flat and we could go beyond the KIA runway which is about 3.5 to 4.2 kilometres. We will also invest in more navigational aids which would make it safer for aircraft to land, takeoff and refuel when we hold aircraft in the air longer.
TSM: What is delaying the start of the construction of Bugesera Airport?
Masozera: A huge infrastructure project like Bugesera airport needs alot of consultation with the Ministry of Finance as it is one of the biggest projects the government has taken on since 1994. RCAA is mainly working on the technical side. We have already got the technical design and engaged good consultants to look at it to find if it fits the country’s vision.The government is looking at different financing models for the project. Once this is settled, the project will take between five to six years to complete.
TSM: There are other airstrips in the country. What are you doing to improve them in order to promote more domestic flights and tourism?
Masozera:Currently, there is a study going on for Kamembe and Gisenyi airstrips to increase the length of the runway.What is in the immediate plan is to resurface Kamembe airport in order for it to accommodate the new RwandAir Q400 which has a new generation propeller with more requirements than the older planes we had. The contract will be signed this month and resurfacing of its 1.5 kilometres together with the addition of another 700 meters to make it 2.2 kilometres will start immediately. It’s a $10 million project we aim to complete in the next eight months. The expansion will make it suitable for medium sized jets.The terminals were worked upon a year ago as the numbers coming from Bukavu into Cyangugu keep on growing.
This we hope will increase the number of domestic flights. There are also a number of tourist companies that are linking regionally so that tourists can tour the whole region in one circuit.We are working with Rwanda Development Board and the other East African governments on that.