The acquisition deal between Qatar Airways and Rwanda’s national carrier RwandAir is still on, with those aware of the latest plans saying internal re-organisation is going on at the national airline to accommodate Qatar Airways to reflect the new partnership in operations by end of this year.
The source says RwandAir is currently working on recommendations made by Qatar, such as having in place qualified and licensed staff, and letting go of those who are not.
It is also said that a number of RwandAir staff will be sent to Doha, Qatar Airways’ hub, for further specialised trainings, as both airlines seek to improve skills and competencies of RwandAir staff.
According to the source, at one point, the partners were deadlocked on who to handle the human resources department in the new arrangement, with RwandAir preferring to continue with staff handling.
Efforts to get a comment from RwandAir regarding the matter were futile.
RwandAir and Qatar went public in February 2020 with plans that the latter was buying a 49 percent stake in RwandAir, a development that was going to reset the aviation industry not just in the region but also on the continent considering Qatar’s financial muscle and global reach.
But following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020, and the subsequent closure of airspaces and borders, talk on the deal faded away as both airlines wrestled with effects of the pandemic on their operations.
At the height of the pandemic last July, the group chief executive of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker said in an interview that nothing had changed regarding the deal to buy a stake in RwandAir.
“We will not like to invest in any other airline during this difficult period. We will wait and see what is the outcome of our industry in the next year or so, and then we will consider our next step in our strategic investments in airlines. Don’t forget that we are still an investor in RwandAir,” he said.
Tied to the stake acquisition in RwandAir is the deal reached last year for Qatar to acquire a 60 percent stake in Rwanda’s Bugesera International Airport still under construction.
According to Jules Ndenga, the chief executive of ATL, the company holding 40 percent stake of the airport, the $1.5 billion worth project is still on course, and construction of the first phase is ongoing, with the completion date of 2022 still a target.
Mr Ndenga said, “The project is under implementation. We are finalising the design, Qatar has already disbursed a portion of its funds at the current phase.”
He could not reveal how much the Qataris have disbursed but said they are honouring their end of the bargain.
The Rwanda Minister of infrastructure, Claver Gatete, said although the Coronavirus pandemic affected project implementation at a number of levels, the construction of the airport is up and running.
“We started with basic airport infrastructures like runways, taxiways, parking lots for aircraft and internal airport roads, this phase is almost complete.
“We are now in the tendering process to get a contractor to build the other structures such as terminal buildings. By the end of July, this process will be completed and construction will begin. Once the contractor begins we shall be able to estimate when the structures are likely to be completed,” said Mr Gatete.
The first phase of Bugesera International Airport will handle seven million passengers, with the next phase expected to accommodate 14 million passengers.
RwandAir’s 2019 accounts lodged with the US Department of Transportation in February show it registered an overall loss of $26.2 million against revenues of $221.4 million.
The airline shelved its fleet expansion plans, but currently has a fleet of 12 aircraft.
Selling 49 percent of its stake to Qatar Airways is expected to not only embolden RwandAir’s competitive position in a region with an ailing Kenya Airways, struggling starters Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania, but also provide the much needed cash flow for fleet expansion, and probably wean it off government cash injections every budget year.