Editor’s Note: May 24, 2018

Is RwandAir getting ahead of itself?

Rwanda has signed a three-year sponsorship deal with Premier League football team Arsenal, whose players will have “Visit Rwanda” adorning their sleeves next season.

This is part of a drive to position the country as a leading tourism and travel hub in Africa.

The backbone of this is its national carrier RwandAir, which is aggressively expanding its network, currently covering 23 destinations. Its stated objective is to become the “airline of obvious choice in the markets we serve”.

The ambition bears the hallmarks of Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame, under whom the country has gained a reputation for getting things done – in a hurry.

But RwandAir must be careful not to get ahead of itself.

Commercial aviation is a notoriously difficult business, and national carriers have the worst track record of all. At worst they are unsustainable vanity projects that soak up public funds.

With GDP of $9.98bn there is little room for state largesse in Rwanda, and competing won’t be cheap.

RwandAir has just 12 planes and is dwarfed by Africa’s leading carrier, Ethiopian Airlines. The latter is adding 60 planes to an existing fleet of 99, and its 2017 revenues of $2.71bn are higher than Rwanda’s budget for 2017/18.

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