RwandAir Plans To Launch New York Flights In 2021

Filed Under: Other Airlines

RwandAir has been talking about launching flights to the USA since 2016, though up until now it hasn’t happened. It would appear that may finally be changing… maybe.

RwandAir plans Kigali to Accra to New York flight

RwandAir has filed with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for permission to launch flights to the United States. Starting in December 2021, RwandAir intends to fly from Kigali to New York JFK via Accra.

While the number of frequencies hasn’t yet been stated, I would assume that this service would operate maybe a couple of times per week, given RwandAir’s lack of long haul aircraft.

Proposed route for RwandAir’s USA flight

Which planes will RwandAir use for USA flights?

RwandAir will use an Airbus A330 for the Kigali to New York route. RwandAir has two A330s — one A330-200, and one A330-300. RwandAir’s A330s are in a three cabin configuration, with business class, premium economy, and economy. The planes feature 244-274 seats.

RwandAir A330

RwandAir has a solid business class hard product, as the airline has Vantage XL seats, featuring direct aisle access. I had the chance to fly RwandAir business class from Kigali to Brussels to London a couple of years back, and had a good flight (though there’s definitely room for improvement with the soft product).

Back in the day the plan was for RwandAir to launch nonstop flights between Kigali and New York using A330-900neos, as the airline had two of these planes on order. However, in the meantime the airline has canceled these plane orders. Heck, at one point the airline was also planning on acquiring A350s, but that never ended up happening either.

Rwandair’s A330 business class

Why would the RwandAir flight stop in Accra?

For those wondering about the Ghana stop, RwandAir doesn’t have a plane that’s capable of flying nonstop between Kigali and New York (at least without a payload restriction), so the Accra stop makes sense:

  • The US to Ghana market is pretty sizable in and of itself, and the airline would presumably have pick-up rights there
  • The Accra stop doesn’t represent a significant detour, as it’s more or less on the way
  • Kigali to New York nonstop would cover a distance of 7,039 miles; with the routing RwandAir is flying, Kigali to Accra covers a distance of 2,157 miles, while Accra to New York covers a distance of 5,111 miles, so that’s just an extra 200+ miles

RwandAir would be going head-to-head against Delta Air Lines in the New York to Accra market. On top of that, United Airlines will soon be launching a nonstop flight between Washington and Accra, which is the only other nonstop flight between the US and Ghana.

Delta also flies between New York and Accra

Will RwandAir actually launch USA flights this time?

As mentioned above, RwandAir has been talking about flying to the US for five years now, and it’s anyone’s guess if this actually happens this time around. I would say that if the airline couldn’t make the route work pre-coronavirus, it seems unlikely that the route would work as of late 2021, since it will likely be at least a few years until international demand fully recovers.

Like so many national airlines, RwandAir has struggled with its approach towards growth:

  • The goal is for the airline to be profitable, but also for the airline to act as a vehicle for tourism and trade growth, and direct flights enable that
  • The problem is that governments seem to go back and forth as to how much they’re willing to subsidize airlines; a route can make sense for a national airline even if it loses money (in terms of the positive impact on a country’s economy), but that requires the government to be onboard with the concept long-term

RwandAir’s current CEO was appointed in 2018, and she made it clear that her goal is to make the airline profitable. I simply don’t see how a US route would contribute towards a direct profit for the airline.

As Kenya Airways’ CEO said when the airline launched its much-anticipated Nairobi to New York flights, “there is nothing lucrative about flying to New York.” Need I say more?

So yeah, I remain highly skeptical about this route actually happening. I’d love to see it, but I’m not holding my breath…

Kenya Airways’ US route hasn’t been much of a success

Bottom line

RwandAir has once again filed with the US DOT to launch flights between Kigali and New York. This time around the service will operate via Accra, and is expected to launch in December 2021.

Only time will tell if this service actually launches, as I’m skeptical. On the one hand, this seems like a bizarre time to launch this route, especially if it never happened pre-pandemic. On the other hand, the airline has just filed with the DOT, suggesting that the airline feels comfortable with the decision based on current circumstances.

What do you think — will RwandAir actually launch Kigali to New York flights this time?

  1. @Ben – is there any way to redeem points on Rwandair? Looks like a promising new link to Africa, which is woefully underserved out of the US.

  2. I booked flights on Rwandaair in 2017 via its website and hooboy, what a mess! I didn’t go through, so I tried again, and still didn’t go through, so I tried one more time, and still no. Looked at my credit card online and it showed the 3 pending charges, and it wasn’t denied by my CC, so I called Rwandaair, got ahold of someone and they told me to call back tomorrow because they were closed. I called back the next day and got ahold of someone and they kept yelling to someone else about my issue, so I literally think there are 2 people running the entire ticketing office from like 9-9:30 am a few days a week, and in the end I’m not even sure if we ended up booking the flights or taking another carrier, but it was definitely all a mess. The Kigali airport is also a disaster. Aside from that, I LOVED Rwanda and highly recommend visiting, I hope to go back sometime.

  3. Rwanda is going to see a tourism boom. With one of the highest educated populations in Africa, it is an enclave in Africa, a safe destination with a growing innovation sector with an emphasis on sustainability, public health, and safety.

    There is now non stop service from Kigali to London, Amsterdam and Tel Aviv and I would not be surprised to see NY on the list. Many NY’ers have been flocking to Kigali to start their safari’s instead of Cape Town due to the safer prospects in Rwanda.

  4. A much nicer ride on JFK-ACC than Delta’s 767s which, nicely redone as they were, that was 10 years ago and the Delta One product on the 300ER is dated and old. The -400 is a lot better as some sport the Delta One Suite.

  5. I would think Lome would make more sense for them to do the layover. And less competition with just Ethiopian. Plus the airport there is pretty new and quite nice.

  6. The most interesting thing in the filing is their updated financials from 2019.

    $221m revenue
    $169m losses
    $143m Government subsidy

    Effectively the Government of Rwanda spends around 1.5% of their national GDP (and nearly 12% of the aid they receive from other countries) to subsidise this loss making operation.

  7. A year ago around this time I was in Rwanda gorilla trekking. It’s an experience I’ll never forget; i can’t recommend it enough. How the world has changed since then… Rwanda is a beautiful country with rich history (good, bad, and the ugly). It should be on your itinerary if you are heading off to Africa in the coming few years. If this RwandAir route does take off, I definitely prefer their business class seat compare to Delta’s.

  8. JFK – Kigali alone doesn’t cut it.
    The airlines need feeder flights from other African cities to make this a profitable route. Which by the way is currently dominated by Ethiopian airlines through their hub in Addis.

  9. @Chris – QR hasn’t yet completed the deal with Rwandair, and also they do not have local traffic rights between LOS-ACC vv.

  10. I lived in Rwanda for three years recently. I really don’t think this route is a great idea given the current barriers in the country for business investment and tourism that will limit Rwanda’s appeal in the near term. Not to say the country has not had an incredible journey our of the 90s. One only needs to look at Burundi next door, and see what could have the country’s path if it didn’t benefit from mostly good, technocratic (If repressive) governance.

    Despite what someone mentioned above, the Company I worked for has often found it far easier to recruit top level talent from Kenya (or Uganda) in the region. This is due to a lot of factors (The Genocide and Civil War effecting a whole cohort, changing the language of instruction in schools over a decade ago from French to English, etc.). I would expect Rwanda to catch up, but still has a ways to go in developing human capital. It is also not a terribly large market (12 million people or so) with a tiny GDP and increasing problems with overpopulation, which may limit medium-long term growth and impact the shift of the population away from subsistence farming.

    Rwanda is essentially known for Volcanoes National Park and the Gorillas. Most high end tourists stop briefly and then leave for Tanzania or Kenya for a more traditional Savanah Safari and/or beach holiday (if they stop in RW at all). In addition Gorilla Permits are 1500 USD for an hour with a family group!

    The NGO African Parks has done a great job developing Akagera NP into a traditional safari alternative, and I’m expecting big things from their management of Nyungwe Forest, but ultimately Rwanda is likely to remain a 3-4 day Gorilla holiday for the big money jet set the Government has been desperate to attract.

  11. Rwanda is a nice destination in Africa, it has a considerable economic progress though CoVID19 will have some effects.
    Therefore,Rwanda deserves to be connected to US via Accra, and Rwanda has been ready for that .
    Rwanda is among Top10 tourism destination in Africa

  12. Rwanda is one of the fastest growing countries in the world, and the second fastest growing in Africa after Ethiopia (which might be the single fastest growing economy in the world). I suspect that this will be a successful route, and even with the stop will slash journey time on typical routings through Brussels or Amsterdam.

  13. @Sean M

    You seem to be ‘tut-tutting’ Rwanda’s subsidy to its national airline as a not altogether smart idea. Pray tell, how does an inconveniently situated nation, which is also landlocked (meaning they have no floaty floaty things we call boats), with only limited highway infrastructure, and no passenger train services countenance NOT having an airline? Pray tell, didn’t a veritable conga line of western and Arab governments just subsidize their airlines (both public and private) even more within the past twelve months? Or do we only ‘tut-tut’ and stick our noses in the air when it’s certain countries/continents? Pray tell, sir. I remain your acronym-free servant.

  14. I have not been to Rwanda, but I know many who have. They all loved it. It’s clean and safe, which is a massive draw for many as Africa in general is not for the inexperienced traveller. For those of us who relish something more than just staying in five star hotels and sipping cocktails, Africa is fantastic.

    Regarding the route itself, I agree demand between Kigali and New York is likely not enough to make the route profitable, but think of it like this: besides O&D between those two cities, there’s demand to and from Accra, as well as to and from points beyond Kigali & New York. And no, airlines do not have to have codeshares in order to offer through tickets. Nor do they need to be in the same alliance.

  15. @Peter I don’t think the Lome option is viable for Rwandair as Ethiopian has a strategic partnership with ASKY, a Lome based airline that is feeding Ethiopian with all its West African passengers. But Rwandair can also have a competitive age by forming partnership with other carriers out of Accra so that it could tap into passengers from other larger markets in West Africa like Nigeria and Ivory-coast.

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