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New Bugesera International Airport could change Rwanda

By kabona esiara

PricewaterhouseCoopers hired to entice investors for the US $700m project

It is common during peak days to find passengers queuing outside the terminal building at Kigali International Airport as they wait to be checked before boarding their flight. The long lines are just one indication that Kigali International Airport, situated in Kanombe, 10 km east of Kigali City Centre, has reached its optimal operational capacity, signalling the need to expand the facilities that were originally built to serve interests of colonialists. The lone runway limits air traffic in and out of the country, and at 3.5 km long, not all airplanes are logistically able to land and take off.

‘When there is in-coming traffic from Brussels Airways, Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines at once, it becomes almost impossible to handle the traffic, to find parking of the airplanes and refuelling of airplanes,’ explains Vincent Karega, Rwanda’s Infrastructure Minister.

Mercy Mboninempa, the Air Uganda sales representative in Rwanda says the small nature of the airport is also inconveniencing passengers. ‘There is one conveyor belt which cannot take everybody at once, therefore the passengers at times have to wait,’ says Mboninempa. ‘At one time 50 of us were checking in only the trolleys. We had to carry the heavy luggage in our hands.’

Kenya Airways’ country manager for Rwanda, Isaac Wambua, describes Kigali airport as small but appreciates that the airport authority is trying to maximize the terminal building by allocating more space to the airport’s core business. ‘The beauty of it is a lot of expansion is taking place at Kigali International Airport,’ says Wambua in a telephone Interview. But the ‘expansion,’ he says, is limited to the one main terminal building.

Expanding Kigali International Airport into heavily settled areas in the city would be politically and monetarily costly, and according to analysts the current government lacks these resources. Moreover, there is a lack of development space in the surrounding villages such as Kironko, Kabeza and Kanombe as modern residential buildings are being developed daily. There are also potential hurdles from environmentalists and locals living nearby who oppose the pollution and noise that accompanies the air traffic.

As a result, in 2009 the Rwandan government employed TPS, a British engineering firm, to design and carry out a feasibility study to develop a new airport in Nyamata village in Bugesera, 40 km south of Kigali. According to a report by TPS, the new airport would be able to handle one million passengers and 150 million tonnes of cargo annually during its first phase from 2015 to 2025. Subsequent phases will follow with higher passenger and cargo capacities. Its estimated cost is US$700m.

‘Phase I will start with a terminal and a bigger runway, and facilities for fuelling and security among many basic requirements of a world class airport,’ says Karega. As traffic grows, Phase II will incorporate building a second runway to approximate the capacity of the largest world airports.

The airport is also designed to provide leisure, hotels and conference facilities. It is further hoped a free trade zone will be created in the area which will spur economic development.  The funding of the project, the minister told the press, will be through a Public-Private Partnerships (PPP’s) model.

Reports indicate the government has already recruited PricewaterhouseCoopers as a transaction advisor. The firm will mobilizing the private capital to invest in the project.

‘PricewaterhouseCoopers is still working out on the material and content. They will soon organize a roundtable on the Bugesera Airport,’ Karega told the press. ‘They are quite optimistic that we will attract many investors and good contractors.’

The first phase of the project will cost about US$450 million and at least US$8.5 million has already been spent on the feasibility studies, architectural designs and review International Civil Aviation Organization.

According to Karega, government has taken the initiative to foot this bill in its totality so as to kick start the project.

With the technical and feasibility studies already completed and architectural design done, the minister is optimistic the airport should be ready by 2015. ‘Construction only takes two years and the site is not a densely inhabited area so there will not be much time spent on compensating and relocating people,’ he says. ‘As soon as money is available work will start immediately.’

The news of the new airport has been welcomed by operators. ‘It is a dream come true,’ says Wambua.

The new airport is crucial for Rwanda to achieve its dream of becoming a regional airline, industrial, ICT and logistics hub.

Charles Ngarambe, who has worked in the airline business as the country manager for Burundi Air, welcomes the new airport arguing it positions Rwanda to be competitive in the East African Community.

‘The New Bugesera International Airport project is a brilliant idea,’ says Ngarambe. ‘International aviation practice dictates airports have to have two runways. [But] Kigali International Airport has got only one.’

The two runways are recommended, partly to handle traffic in case of any incidences.

For instance on Nov. 12, 2009, when RwandAir Jet Crashed into VIP Terminal in Kigali, traffic in and out of Kigali had to be interrupted for a period of time as the airport had no alternative runway where planes could be diverted.

Bugesera, according to Ngarambe, is an ideal location for an international airport. ‘Internationally 40 kilometers is acceptable for an airport and as Kigali expands the two areas will marry,’ says Ngarambe.

Regarding the viability of the project, Ngarambe says it has the potential to be a regional airline hub serving the entire African continent because Rwanda is centrally located.

James Nziremo, a resident of Bugesera, says the airport is going to turn around their lives and spur economic development in an area which had been neglected by previous governments.

‘The airport will definitely create employment for many people in this area. Hotels are to develop. More roads are to come up. The airport therefore answers Bugesera’s woes.’

The airport project comes at a time Rwanda is promoting the horticulture sector after realizing the country has a lot of potential but untapped.

Rosemary Mbabazi, from Rwanda Development Board investment unit says the country has the best climate condition that can allow growing of fruits, vegetables and flowers in all seasons.

She says horticulture already employs one million Rwandans and when they graduate from substance to commercial, the sector will definitely need larger cargo aircrafts which can only land at the planned airport.

Mbabazi revealed that the demand for horticultural products from East Africa is also showing positive demand in the markets.

Double landlocked Rwanda looks at air transport to link it to the rest of the world; developing a world class airport is consequently very strategic.

Last year, Kigali International Airport registered a 15 percent growth in  passenger volume while this year, Rwanda’s Civil Aviation Authority projects will handle over 300,000 passengers and the numbers are expected to grow more.

‘Our cargo traffic- exports and imports have also grown tremendously. Our flights have also increased, in value and volume,’ says Dr. Richard Masozera, Director General of Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority.

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