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Cablegate: Recent Problems with Rwandair Express Cause Concern

VZCZCXRO9430
PP RUEHJO
DE RUEHLGB #0202/01 0791623
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 191623Z MAR 08
FM AMEMBASSY KIGALI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5188
INFO RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 0208
RUEHJB/AMEMBASSY BUJUMBURA 0262
RUEHDR/AMEMBASSY DAR ES SALAAM 1076
RUEHKM/AMEMBASSY KAMPALA 1844
RUEHKI/AMEMBASSY KINSHASA 0397
RUEHLG/AMEMBASSY LILONGWE 0091
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 0184
RUEHNR/AMEMBASSY NAIROBI 1161
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0438
RUEHSA/AMEMBASSY PRETORIA 1958
RUEHJO/AMCONSUL JOHANNESBURG 0112
RUEHMT/AMCONSUL MONTREAL 0018
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0287

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KIGALI 000202

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EAIR ECON EFIN EINV AMGT CASC RW
SUBJECT: RECENT PROBLEMS WITH RWANDAIR EXPRESS CAUSE CONCERN


1. (SBU) Summary. Recently Rwandair Express (Rwandair),
Rwanda's regional airline carrier, has been experiencing
major breakdowns in both airline safety and customer
service. Concerned about the safety of American citizens
and Mission staff who frequently use Rwandair to travel
around the region, Emboffs spoke with Rwandair and GOR
Civil Aviation officials to convey our concern and request
improvements. Rwandan Civil Aviation Authority required
Rwandair to replace a malfunctioning aircraft, and
Rwandair has discontinued its contractual relationship
with the aircraft leasing company, InterAir.
Looming privitization may be the long-term solution to
the airline's continuing problems. End summary.

2. (SBU) Owned by the Government of Rwanda, Rwandair
is a regional carrier that runs multiple flights
per week out of Kigali to Nairobi, Johannesburg, Bujumbura,
Entebbe, Kilimanjaro and Cyangugu, using two wet-leased
aircraft from Air Malawi (one prop plane and one Boeing
737). Since January, Rwandair service on its
Boeing 737 has been increasingly erratic and dangerous.
Multiple mechanical failures, including one aborted
take-off late February in Johannesburg with three Mission
staff abroad as passengers, began to raise serious
concerns over the safety of the airline. Passengers
on the other flights reported repeated engine failures
on the tarmac, and claimed that several times Rwandair
took off with only one of two jet engines working. Local
travel agents and pilots reported that passengers were
frequently stranded by the airline, with little or no
explanation as to the nature of the problem, and no
accommodations offered to them.

3. (SBU) On March 14, pol/econ chief spoke with Joshua
Mbaraga, Director of the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority
(CAA), to express Mission's concern at the repeated reports
of
mechanical failures and poor service. At the direction of
the Ambassador, pol/econ chief told Mbaraga that absent
significant and immediate changes in Rwandair's operations,
the Mission would be forced to place Rwandair off limits to
employees, and inform American citizens of the recurring
safety problems. Mr. Mbaraga pledged to investigate the
situation. Later the same day, Mbaraga called to
to say he has grounded the malfunctioning Boeing aircraft.
Rwandair would receive a "warning note" on its failure to
inform his office on aircraft substitutions and crew
changes. In a subsequent call the next day, Mbaraga said
the Boeing 737 had been flown out of Rwanda under a "failed
flight permit," with no passengers on board, to be returned
to its leasing company (InterAir based in South Africa).

4. (SBU) Econoff met with Manzi Kayihura, Rwandair CEO,
on March 17 to discuss Rwandair. According to Kayihura, in
January Air Malawi subcontracted with InterAir, a South
African
company, to provide a replacement jet aircraft to Rwandair
while Air Malawi's own craft was undergoing maintenance.
Kayihura admitted several problems with the Interair
737, including a bird strike, flat tires on takeoff and two
engine incidents in which engines would not start. He denied
Qengine incidents in which engines would not start. He denied
passenger accounts of engine failures on takeoff, or
any failures to accomodate passengers for missed flights,
and stated that - although there were problems - the the
South
African Aviation Authority approved the InterAir flight.
The fourth incident (see paragraph 2), with an aborted
takeoff
and blown tires in Johannesburg, was the "final straw"
according to Kayihura. Rwandair "fired" Interair and
substituted Interlink, another South African company.
Further, said Kayihura, Rwandair would not renew its
contract with Air Malawi, set to expire at the end of
March. Acknowledging that Rwandair has been on the market
for some time, Kayihura commented that the GOR had narrowed
the field of potential buyers to two companies, Meridian
Airlines and SN Brussels. The winner would be announced in
the first two weeks of April.


KIGALI 00000202 002 OF 002


5. (SBU) Comment: While safety problems may have been
resolved
for the moment with the Rwandair switch to Interlink (which
we understand has a better aviation track record than
Interair), a longer-term solution to the airline's problems
is needed. We are disturbed that Kayihura's
characterization of the events of the last two months
contradicts passenger, pilot and travel
agency accounts of the various equipment mishaps and
customer services failures. While imminent privatization
may be the needed solution for consistent and safe service
in the long term, flights are scheduled and passengers will
continue to fly in the short term. We will monitor
Rwandair's performance closely. End comment.


ARIETTI

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