Rwandair joins Uganda Airlines as A330neo customer
August 27, 2018- Airbus’s A330 neo has signed up a new customer in East Africa with Rwandair due to take delivery of the first of two A330-900 neos in July 2019.
Coupled with Uganda Airlines -800 neos and Ethiopians order for 22 A350-900’s, the European air-framer is making a strong come back in the region after losing its sole customer, Kenya Airways in 2003.
Rwandair will be taking delivery of two A330-900 neo’s next year to support its expansion to the US and China. This is however an interim arrangement because like Uganda Airlines, Rwanda had wanted the -800neo, that fits its route network better. As a result it will be taking the 900’s on short term lease rather than outright purchase as it waits for 800-neo slots.
“Like Uganda, Rwanda had wanted the -800 neo but their needs could not wait for 2020 when it will become available, so they opted for the -900neo as an interim solution,” says a source that is familiar with the Rwandan carriers plans.
Rwandair currently operates a pair of baseline A330’s, a -300 and -200 on rotations to Europe and Mumbai. The airline has been positioning to add New York and Guangzhou to its route network, making additional aircraft necessary.
Rwanda’s interest in the -800neo is likely to come as relief for the Uganda Airlines project team that was last week asked to justify its choice of the A330-800neo, for which so far it is the sole customer.
Deflecting any concerns about the -800 neo, Uganda Airlines Chief Executive Eng. Ephraim Bagenda explained that the variant was only a shrink of the larger A330-900 neo and therefore had a high degree of commonality with both the 900 and baseline A330-200.
“It only has a shorter fuselage otherwise it has the same engines, wing and avionics as the 900neo which, a neighbouring airline will be putting into service next year,” he said.
Bagenda added that the A330 is the most popular aircraft ever in its class given that it has been ordered by 108 customers against 71 for the B787 and 46 for the A350.
The lease finance for Rwandair’s -900neo’s is being arranged by the Trade and Development Bank which is acting as the financial intermediary for the acquisitions.
Sales of the -800 neo have been generally flying against a headwind in the larger mature markets which prefer the economies of scale offered by the larger passenger capacity of -900 rather than the additional range but lower carrying capacity of its shorter cousin. Also, many of the bigger airlines already have young fleets and pending deliveries of the baseline A330 which is still very competitive in its segment.
Because of their geographical location and planned routes to the east and west, the -800’s longer ranger combined with the relatively thin markets out of their bases have been the major attraction to the type for Uganda Airlines and Rwandair. With a capacity to carry 257 passengers over a distance of 15,094 kilometres, the -800 neo can fly non-stop to most populations centres around the globe from Entebbe.
Mr. Bagenda revealed that Uganda Airlines would also team up with a maintenance and repair organization (MRO) of international repute to set up a maintenance centre for Airbus and Bombardier jets. The MRO that will be certified to service both Bombardier’s CRJ 900 and the Airbus A330neo, will be operated as a separate joint venture that will set up shop at Entebbe to train and transfer skills to locals. Besides Uganda Airlines own fleet, the MRO centre will bid to offer services to other operators.
If actualised, it will be the second such facility in Eastern Africa after Addis which is also ramping up to service Airbus types after it became an operator of the A350.
Uganda Airlines which takes to the skies during the first quarter of 2020, holds a firm order for four CRJ-900 series aircraft while the first Airbus is expected to join the fleet towards the end of 2020.
It plans to build a regional feeder network of 19 routes during the first two years of operation as it positions for international services in 2021.
According to statistics for Entebbe, the airport handled 1.53 million passengers in 2017, with 99 percent of departures international. London Heathrow was the most underserved destination with 60,000 passengers travelling there indirectly from Entebbe.
Ethiopian was the largest operator out of the airport by capacity, deploying 140,000 seats out of Entebbe.