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RwandAir plans to start flights to Gatwick, London’s second-busiest airport, by 2018, according to John Mirenge, the airline’s chief executive officer.

Mirenge said the national carrier was currently negotiating with the UK Civil Aviation Authority to start flights to Gatwick. The move, he added, is part of the airline’s expansion plans that also include opening of new routes to other parts of Europe and East Asia.

Last year, the airline officials told Parliament that they were in final stages of seeking approvals to start flights to these two regions as part of the wider expansion drive by RwandAir. However, RwandAir will first open routes to Harare in Zimbabwe; Mumbai, India; and Guangzhou in China before expanding to Western Europe, Mirenge said while launching the airline’s first commercial flights to Abidjan, Ivory Coast on Friday. He said the airline is ready to ply the Kigali-Gatwick route any time it gets the green light by the UK civil aviation body.

Recently, the airline acquired its first A330-200 Airbus aircraft to boost its fleet and capacity to compete globally. It is waiting for another wide body A330-300 Airbus to further boost its fleet and be able to serve planned destinations in Europe and East Asia.

Meanwhile, the local business community has welcomed the new commercial flights to Ivory Coast, one of West Africa’s biggest economies.

According Christopher Manzi, a Kigali-based exporter, the route presents the local business community an opportunity to get new markets, and strengthen trade ties between the two countries.

“High transport costs and logistical challenges have, for a long time, been hindrance to trade between African economies. However, with RwandAir spreading its wings across the continent and beyond, we can now travel and trade more efficiently and at affordable rates,” he said on Friday.

Mirenge said the Kigali-Abidjan route is part of the strategy to cover more destinations across Africa.

“Flights to Abidjan are currently tagged to our already existing destinations, including Accra in Ghana, and will be served with three weekly flights; on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. It will be operated by the B737-700NG and B737-800NG aircraft,” Mirenge noted.

Last month the airline launched flights to Cotonou, Benin, another West Africa nation. The opening of the Abidjan route means the airline’s now flies to 19 destinations, including Nairobi, Entebbe, Mombasa, Bujumbura, Lusaka, Juba, Douala, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro, Cotonou, Johannesburg, Dubai, Lagos, Libreville and Brazzaville.

RwandAir is IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA) certified. The globally-recognised and accepted evaluation certification confirms that the airline’s operational management and control systems meet international civil aviation safety and other standards.

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