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Center of Excellence closes air skills gap

Interview - September 8, 2016

Akagera Aviation is creating a Center of Excellence in Aviation that will train not only future pilots but also aviation technicians, engineers, airport managers, and other in-demand professionals the industry needs. Managing Director Patrick Nkulikiyimfura provides an insight into the strengthening air connections taking shape in East Africa, and the new types of air services his company is introducing to Rwanda.



Investments are flowing into the African continent, especially after the world’s 2008 financial crisis. What is your assessment of this African momentum?

In Africa the momentum is here to stay. It’s the only region in the world with an average growth of 7% over a decade. 60% of Africa’s youth is less than 24 years old: we see it as an opportunity for future economic growth. Like the former president of Africa Development Bank, Donald Kaberuka, once said: “Africa’s potential is being underestimated.” We are seeing stronger regional trade and alliances. The service sector and IT are strongly gaining momentum and are more and more drivers to our economic growth.


What are the challenges to taking all these human resources into the productive sectors?

There are mainly two challenges: education and health. Mastering these two aspects on a sustainable manner is key to the continent’s success. Education needs to evolve with the global context. We have to move from the traditional and formal way of educating: I believe in an education system that mixes the theory and practice for young graduates to be employable and skilled fresh out of college and university. We need a constructivist approach to education.

I am happy in Rwanda; we have more and more TVET and entrepreneurship competition to stimulate the youth in IT start-ups for instance. I am also happy to announce that at Akagera Aviation, we are starting a Center of Excellence in Aviation that will train not only future pilots but also aviation technicians and engineers, airport management courses…


Rwanda, with its small population needs to integrate with other neighboring countries and take advantage of those bigger markets. How would you evaluate the efforts in this regard?

The East African Community has proven to be one of the continent’s most dynamic regions when it comes to regional economic blocks in Africa. We gain from being part of a market of a size of 120 million people. We also gain from the regional block in partnering on strategic and regional projects such as the oil pipeline and the railways for instance. Dar Es Salam and Mombasa ports are our main points of entry for all our goods. Integration has reduced the cost of doing business in transport to 40% through the implementation of a single customs territory along Northern and Central corridors. Trade between countries will increase from the current 16% as there are more East African business summits and deals being signed.


How would you describe Rwanda’s infrastructure and future plans regarding it, especially in air transport?

Rwanda has massively invested in air transport over the last decade, and future plans are also promising, with Bugesera International Airport in the pipeline. We are landlocked so it is strategically important to have an efficient air transport provider like RwandAir to not only increase trade and investment in Rwanda but also tourism. There are also plans to expand runaways on some of our domestic airports.

Akagera Aviation has also developed a solid brand when it comes to tourism in the country. The future plans of air transport imply more capacity building in the aviation sector and we are happy; we are already playing a role into that, as we are widening our training scope with the Center of Excellence in Aviation.


In October 2015, a new holding company was established to manage aviation activities and boost Rwanda’s aviation sector – the Aviation, Travel and Logistics Limited (ATL Ltd) – and to convert the country into an aviation hub. Could you please elaborate on this strategy? How will synergies be taken advantage of and what role will Akagera Aviation have in it?

The aviation sector is a key driver of the economic growth of this country thanks to government support. ATL is connecting the dots between aviation stakeholders, tourism stakeholders and logistic stakeholders for a common purpose that is more sustainable in the long term.

Our role as Akagera Aviation is in reducing the skills gap in the aviation industry. More precisely, we intend to develop the following skills:

  1. Fixed and rotary wing aircraft pilot training
  2. Licensed engineers’ training
  3. Airline operations-related courses
  4. Airport operations-related courses
  5. Civil Aviation Authority technical staff training.


Akagera Aviation started in 2004 to cater to the needs of general aviation in the region. What are the achieved milestones in its 12 years of existence?

Since 2009, more than 50 pilots have been trained. We have contributed significantly to showcasing the tourism sector from an aerial perspective, in and outside our borders. We played our role in aerial medical evacuation, and in the energy sector through aerial surveys that were done for different institutions. We have put together a business plan to develop the center of excellence that I was referring to earlier. Our contribution has been humble and with humility and we hope to grow it within ATL.


You mentioned you offer emergency medical evacuation services, something especially expats and tourists value greatly when visiting some countries.

We asked ourselves: how can we increase customers’ satisfaction while visiting our country? We are in the tourism sector, most of our clients come from a sea-level country and we are in a high altitude country. We introduced the aerial medical evacuation through the tour operators in the tourism industry for only $20. It is an added value service and great differentiation when you compare it to neighboring countries.


Besides the main activities that compose your business, you tend to diversify towards new sectors, such as agriculture or mining. Can you elaborate on that?

This is a new concept in Rwanda; crop spraying with a helicopter requires extremely good pilot skills as it implies flying very low on hilly terrain. We are still training and we hope to develop and offer it in the safest manner possible. It also requires involvement from various stakeholders.


The President of Malawi told us how different international institutions, such as the World Bank were helping the country to conduct geological surveys. Are you approaching similar institutions?

Not really, we approach institutions that need geological surveys and they in turn will make institutions such Word Bank pay for our services.


What is the aviation sector’s future you foresee?

16,000 new pilots will be required until 2032. This is also in line with Boeing’s 2012 Pilot and Technician Outlook Report, according to which 14,500 new pilots will be required between 2012 and 2031 in Africa. We hope with our Center of Excellence to play a role in reducing the skills gap.


As there is a clear trend in Africa from aid to trade, what opportunities would you highlight for investors?

Join-ventures are the best way to go, as it is a win-win for each party. We see synergies in developing them and hope for a better return of investment.


How does your education at IATA Geneva, and your experience as COO at RwandAir, help you to lead Akagera Aviation?

Managing operations at RwandAir has taught me a lot: dealing with 24/7 operations requires quick and right decisions to be taken. It taught me how key is safety in aviation; it is actually your number one preoccupation. It also helped me in developing good on-time performance. Being a safety-conscious and on-time airline was important to us.