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It may be finally happening for real: RwandAir will fly from Kigali, Rwanda, to New York — and probably nonstop, too. It would be the first flight ever between the United States and the East African nation. And it would also be with the brand-new Airbus A330neo, the latest version of the Airbus long-haul workhorse.
RwandAir has confirmed it will take delivery of the first of two Airbus A330-900neos in 2019, and use the jet to operate non-stop flights between New York and Rwanda. The feasibility of such a long flight nonstop with the A330 is far from certain, though.
The Kigali-based carrier has a new CEO, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, who confirmed the airline is picking up two orders for A330-900neos which were originally destined for now-defunct Air Berlin. When the German airline ceased operations in October 2017, Airbus met with the RwandAir team to discuss reallocating Air Berlin’s order slots to the East African airline, which was hungry for new airplanes to expand.
In fact, John Mirenge, the airline’s CEO when RwandAir took delivery of earlier-model A330s in 2016, told TPG that “Airbus had to talk us out of buying one of everything, so that we at least remain sustainable! We want it all, A350, A330!” RwandAir currently operates an A330-200 and an A330-300 on routes in Africa, and to Brussels, London and Dubai outside of Africa.
Last year, RwandAir applied for US Department of Transportation rights to operate flights to the US, which have since been approved. The problem is that the even the “neo”version of the A330, with almost 500 miles of additional range compared to existing A330s thanks to more efficient engines, may not have the juice needed to reach New York nonstop.
The distance between Kigali and New York is 7,048 miles, and the range of the A330-900neo is around 7,500 miles, which means the proposed route takes the jet close to maximum range — and that’s without factoring in the headwinds when flying westbound, and a departure from high-altitude, hot airport in Kigali. (High altitude and hot air degrade a plane’s takeoff performance, meaning it may not be able to depart with a full load of fuel.)
Airbus says it is working very closely with RwandAir to make this possible, and often the actual range of a jet varies from the official stats as a WOW Air A321neo proved when it flew non-stop from Iceland to California, a surprising feat. Still, a nonstop from Rwanda to New York would be technically difficult. A fuel stop may be necessary at least on some days, or payload may have to be restricted, diminishing the commercial appeal of the flight. It’s not clear how RwandAir — which is not part of an alliance — plans to make money on a route that would be a major step up from its current operations, but the airline is firm about wanting to serve New York.
That said, RwandAir may be a young and relatively small airline from a small country, but its coach and business cabins feature pretty good seats.
With the introduction of A330-900neo, RwandAir will feature Airbus’ new “Airspace by Airbus” cabin, with a new ceiling, overhead lockers, side wall panels, and more. We can expect the seats to remain the same, which is good news as the airline invested heavily in some of the market’s leading seats, such as the Thompson Vantage XL, which is also found in business class cabins on SAS and South African Airways. Economy class on the carrier’s current A330 is pictured below.
A previous version of this article identified RwandAir’s Premium Economy seats as Economy. We have fixed the offending caption.
Featured image of RwandAir Airbus A330 by Alex Macheras / The Points Guy
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