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RwandAir suspends Mumbai route, but New Times fails to say why

At exactly 11:10a.m on April 4, 2017, Rwanda’s national carrier, RwandAir, made its maiden touchdown at the Chhatrapati Shivachi International Airport in India’s Mumbai City.

The Boeing 737-800NG christened Kalisimbi had 82 passengers on board, excluding the cabin crew, as aptly reported then by Athan Tashobya for the New Times, who also reminded readers that the aircraft could carry a maximum of 154.

Pomp and pageantry marked the event, with Rwanda’s High Commissioner to India, Ernest Rwamucyo, toasting the feat as “a milestone for Indo-Africa air connectivity.” RwandAir would be operating four non-stop flights weekly from Kigali to Mumbai.

Director of global sales and operations Alex Buterere described the new route as “another great boost to trade and bilateral ties between Rwanda and India,” adding: “Under normal circumstances, from Kigali to Mumbai via Nairobi and Doha or Dubai, it would take about 10 hours. With this direct flight, it will take about seven hours. Businesswise, this is a great advantage to the people.”

Everything seemed to have gone well until last Saturday, March 2, 2024. The same New Times went to town with bad news, announcing that the “[n]ational carrier RwandAir will suspend all flights to and from Mumbai, effective March 15 [2024] in line with its continuous service improvement strategy.” Writing under the title, ‘Why RwandAir plans to suspend Mumbai flights,’ reporter Emmanuel Ntirenganya set readers on the edge. That headline promised readers detailed information on what could have triggered such a drastic action. Forget that RwandAir had, earlier, not indicated challenges it was experiencing on the Mumbai route, if at all.

Unfortunately, the writer failed to harvest from RwandAir management the necessary detailed and convincing reasons for its abrupt decision. Instead, he seemed satisfied only with the official version of the story and failed to widen the scope of the theme to enlighten readers.

For example, listen to reporter Ntirenganya quoting RwandAir’s Chief Commercial Officer Andrew Best Owie: “RwandAir started this route seven years ago, and has continuously sought new ways to improve on its service delivery on the route. Hence, the need to source and deploy the right product to serve our esteemed passengers on the route has necessitated our action for now.”

Official gobbledygook. No story there. Pray, how does the suspension of the Mumbai route promote the airline’s customer service?

However, Owie came so close to explaining why RwandAir was suspending the Mumbai route. Only that the reporter didn’t instantly pursue that line to prod him to disclose more. Here: “Our present constraint to operate a non-stop flight to India is a major challenge which the airline hopes to resolve in the nearest future with the right product in place.” What constitute “our present constraint”?

The official dropped another hint that, unfortunately, was also not followed through. Owie: “[W]e have the right network optimisation strategy in place. Hence, you can be assured that this has no wider effect on our operations.”

Yet, there is a way in which the New Times should have prepared to milk as much detail as possible from RwandAir officials. By reading widely on how airlines launch new routes. For example, of October 4, 2023 published an illuminating article by Noam Ismaaili. He posits that airlines conduct route market analyses to, among others, ensure there’s enough passenger demand for possible routes. One of those tools, allows airlines to study demographics around airports: average number of passengers per departure, the average load factor, the fares, revenues of competitors on each route, and the layer of bureaucracy for getting authorization at international destinations.

Such returns of legwork would have provided reporter Ntirenganya with straightforward ideas to tick boxes against his interview with the officialdom at Rwandair: Market research, aircraft selection, competitiveness against its competitors, authorisation requisition, and proper handling of logistics at the Chhatrapati Shivachi International Airport in Mumbai City. Did RwandAir do all these before launching the route? Answers to these questions would have told a broader, deeper, and more convincing story.

Lesson learnt? A good reporter must never treat a story as one happy accident. There is so much circumstantial information that must be prodded to add value to the whole.

‘Why RwandAir plans to suspend Mumbai flights,’

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