Rwandair is one of Africa’s most interesting airlines. They are a very small airline, located in the small country of Rwanda. The airline has two A330s, which have excellent business class seats. The airline flies to a about two dozen destinations with 11 aircraft (per Wikipedia). Rwandair was recently in the news because they announced their intent to fly to the US. This was very surprising to me because (at the moment) the airline would not have aircraft to fly the route. Their options were have a fifth freedom route from Rwanda to Europe to the US, or from some other destination in Africa. The airline has ambitious growth plans, or so it seems. They have announced a new hub/focus city in Cotonou this week. If you thought their US flight was an interesting, this is even more out there.
Cotonou, for those that aren’t familiar with African geography, is the capital of Benin. Benin used to be French colony, under the name of Dahomey. After 1960, they became independent and have had a multi-party democracy since 1991. The country is a developing country, and so is their air transport infrastructure. Cotonou’s airport is quite small, but has connections to major cities such as Paris, Istanbul, Brussels, Addis Ababa and Nairobi. The country does not have a flag carrier.
The airline is planning on starting flights to new destinations from Cotonou, such as Bamako, Conakry, Dakar and Douala. All of these cities are regional economic centers. The airline will go from flying 3 times a week from the airport, to a total of 15 weekly flights. Although I don’t have official statistics, this could well make them the largest carrier there. All of their flights will be operated by 737s.
So, why Cotonou?
This is a question that I can’t honestly answer. The airline does not have that many aircraft at the moment, and sending them all the way across the continent seems unusual. The only thing I can think of goes back to their idea to launch a route to the US. By connecting these regional economic centers (none of which have US flights except Dakar), the airline could connect passengers from the region in Cotonou to the US. I can also assume that the government of Benin is giving them subsidies to fly to/from the capital. This would be a major development for the airline and the country, as it could bring much needed investment in both Benin AND Rwanda.
I am quite confused as to why Cotonou for Rwandair’s expansion. The airline has very ambitious hopes, but have not ordered any aircraft to make either Kigali or Cotonou major transport hubs in the region. If and when the airline acquires more aircraft, we will be able to project better what the actual expansion will look like. I don’t necessarily think the decision to expand in West Africa is a bad one, it would probably add connecting passengers for their flights. I am worried the airline may be trying to bite off more than it can chew at the moment. My expectations are that the airline will add more aircraft, possibly regional jets or propeller aircraft, to feed flights into both of their hubs. This could make their operations more feasible and more likely to succeed. In the next couple of months we will wait and see what the airline does next.
What do you think? What do you make of Rwandair adding a hub in Cotonou? Was this a good strategic decision or are there better options? Let us know!
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