RwandAir May Start Flying To New York By August

RwandAir is a cool little airline that has grown quite a bit the past few years, and that has some aspirational growth plans beyond that. In November 2016, RwandAir’s CEO said that he wanted the airline to start flying between Kigali and New York by 2019, using an Airbus A350.

I think the airline is being highly optimistic if they think they can turn a profit on such a route, and the assumption from many is that this would be a prestige route. Currently RwandAir’s longest route is to London and Brussels, and business class fares there are consistently pretty low. So it makes you wonder how they’d intend to turn a profit on a 7,000+ mile flight.

The other issue is that while the airline wants to eventually get an A350, as of now their longhaul fleet consists of just two A330s, so they don’t have much capacity to grow. That’s why it’s especially puzzling that RwandAir seems to be moving forward with their plans to start flying to the US.

Last July the airline began the process of requesting the right to operate service to the US, with the intention to start service by August 2018. That’s now a step closer to being a reality, as RwandAir has received permission from the DOT to operate flights to the US. The East African reports that the permit became effective on May 29, 2018, and the airline intends a launch date of August 1, 2018.

I’m still skeptical about this route on so many levels. For example, this January Rwanda’s transport minister announced that the national airline would launch flights to Guangzhou via Mumbai as of May 2018. That never ended up happening.

Anyway, I guess we’ll find out soon enough if this route ends up happening. At over 7,000 miles I believe this would be beyond the range of the A330, or at a minimum it would really be pushing it if they hope to have a decent payload. That raises the question of whether they’d operate a fifth freedom flight via another country, if they’d lease a plane to operate the route with very little notice, or if this is all just a dream.

Then again, another African airline is moving forward with flights to New York. Kenya Airways will be launching daily flights between Nairobi and New York as of this October with a 787, which also seemed like it would never happen for a struggling airline.

If RwandAir is serious, they could launch flights to the US before Kenya Airways does.

So, anyone want to place their bet as to whether RwandAir will start flying to the US as of this year?

(Tip of the hat to @MeenzMev)

Comments

  1. I would very happy if this was moving forward as I’m actually thinking of going to Rwanda next year! And it looks like they have a very nice product. But yeah not sure this route will happen, or if it does I’m not sure it’ll last.

  2. The gov of Rwanda wants to attract conferences.
    They recently abolished all advance visa requirements, so any nationality is now eligible for visa on arrival!

  3. This is pretty cool and I hope they succeed in having this route! I went to Rwanda back in 2010 and recall the only way to book a flight on Rwandair was by sending an email for a quote. I then received a reply to pay the airline at the airport in USD cash just before my flight. At the time I was a bit hesitant but it actually all worked out!

    Does Rwanda customs still have that strict no plastic bag policy?

  4. I just read a book about Dian Fossey and now part of me really wants to go to Rwanda and part of me never wants to, so who knows…

  5. Seriously, who would want to fly to Rwanda given the current political climate??? Not sure if the passengers would have a pleaseant welcome from US immigration officers.

  6. Really good news…I believe that this will happen soon! Those guys in kigali are very serious and aggressive when doing business! The question now is how they will compete the existing airlines like Emirates,Quatar,Ethiopian,Turkish etc..

  7. There was a report that they’ll be getting A330Neos soon, inheriting slots that were previously reserved for Air Berlin ( i believe). Indeed their current 2 long haul planes don’t have the range for the non-stop flight.
    August is very ambitious but i do hope that it’ll actually happen at some point – but i’d put my money on 2019.

    Kenya Airways ofcourse started selling tickets to JFK in January meaning 10months before the actual launch which is quite reasonable.

  8. @William – There are Dian Fossey-geared tours available in Volcanoes National Park, but one of the highlights of a visit to Rwanda is seeing the mountain gorillas. The only problem is that the fee is currently at US $1,500 for a one hour visit with no guarantee that you’ll actually see gorillas (though I’ve never personally heard of anyone/group actually doing the hike and returning not having seen the gorillas – their movements are well-tracked ahead of time so one is pretty much guaranteed time with the gorillas).

    For the gorillas, it can be MUCH cheaper in Virunga National Park on the Congo side, but it’s probably not a good idea to go there just now: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/kidnap-tourists-congo-virunga-national-park-closed-militia-mountain-gorillas-a8383136.html

    Bwindi National Park in Uganda may be less expensive as well, but you would need to research that.

    Sorry, you had mentioned Dian Fossey and I’m giving you gorilla tips. 🙂

  9. @Lucky l live in Rwanda and run a tour operator so let me give you some additional info about Rwanda(ir): a new airport is being built as we speak and could open next year but more likely in 2020. Kigali is a perfect location for an African hub as it’s pretty much bang on in the middle of the continent so pax from JFK should easily be able to transit anywhere in East, Central or Southern Africa. Rumour has it the flight will stop in either Accra or Lagos to help with load factors.
    As per KQ flight to JFK, Nairobi has a big UN base and as the Entebbe base is most probably going to be shut down and shifted to NBO, there should be a lot of traffic between the 2 cities.
    And for those of you thinking of of coming to Rwanda, please do! It’s amazing and I I can help you out 😉

  10. @Earth Wanderer – Actually the UN has been growing more in Entebbe lately due to MONUSCO and UNMISS rather than Nairobi where UNSOS is now effectively only administering support for the AMISOM contingent that is primarily Ugandan anyway. If a formal mission to CAR is set up, I have it on reliable authority that this would also be probably administered out of Entebbe. Certainly the Gigiri facilities are more impressive than the container farm in Entebbe so the higher level regional work will be done from there, but the reality is that MONUSCO simply dwarfs the other missions so the bulk of the bodies will continue to be in Entebbe.

    As for Rwandair, they may be growing, but their financials would make even Qatar or Etihad embarrassed. Maybe Yvonne Makolo will help bring some sense back into their strategic plan, because they had really lost their way since they got rid of John Mirenge and his team abruptly last year.

  11. @earthwanderer Zanzibar and Morocco were always higher on my list of African countries to visit. But maybe if travel will be easier, I’ll give Rwanda a try. I know absolutely nothing about it besides what happened in the 90s. I will do some research.

  12. Here comes the ignorant American: hasn’t Rwanda had serious war/genocide/something-like-that problems in the recent past? Is it legitimately safe to travel around in? I went to Nairobi once, loved it. Felt find walking around town. Rwanda I don’t think is high on the list of travelers from New York to visit, but if it makes a good connection point that might be compelling. I connected in JNB (from JFK) for my Nairobi trip and another trip to Luanda, and that flight is brutal. If Rwanda shaves hours off that flight from NY, I’d be fine with that.

  13. @jay, is safe. I’d say way safer than nairobi, especially if you are just comparing the capitals. it is “legitimately” safe. In my opinion, quite good roads too. Rwanda has gorilla trekking and nowadays posh eco lodges – so I think that’s the angle Rwandan tourism board is playing. So, round up your NY friends and go check it out.

    Can someone confirm please, when I was in Rwanda, I was told by my driver, that Warren Buffet bought the governing body that jacked up the Gorilla permit fee. Is it true that Warren Buffet bought it?

    @joey, not in my case. I’ve wrapped a lot of my items in plastic bags when crossing from Ugandan land border, Rwandan side didn’t care. This was in January 2018.

  14. I would love a single-stop connecting flight to TNR via Kigali, since currently to get there from the U.S., you need to at least go via Addis Ababa (which is only single-stop in one direction) or Europe (even Istanbul is honestly not on the way). SAA stops in Dakar/ Accra already, so I suppose Lagos is a more logical destination, especially if Delta is willing to codeshare from JFK. Kenya Airways could be a great option, too! But I’d probably find Kigali a little less overwhelming than Nairobi.

  15. @Sam @lucky

    Depending on the MTOW of the A330-200 that Rwandair has, they may be able to make the flight non-stop. Note that the current longest A330-200 flight is operated by Aerolineas Argentinas from EZE-FCO (6919 miles) and that KGL-JFK would be only about 100 more at 7039 miles. Both airlines took their A330-200’s at roughly the same times (around late 2016), and I know that AR’s 332 is the high-MTOW 238/242-tonne variant, which operates EZE-FCO with few restrictions. If Rwandair has the same MTOW, it’s feasible that they could fly the route non-stop and back, especially considering their less-dense configuration.

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