RwandAir, Rwanda’s national carrier, launched its inaugural direct flight to Israel on Monday, CNBC Africa first reported.
"This is a big step for us. Israel is our second destination in the Middle East, after Dubai, we are very excited about it," Rwandair CEO Yvonne Manzi Makolo said before the flight to CNBC. "It holds a lot of potential for us both for Rwanda strategically, it terms of strengthening diplomatic ties between the two countries, but also for the entire network where we will be transporting passengers from different destinations in the African continent to Israel, whether they are business travelers or tourists or religious tourists. This is a very exciting route for us."
This flight came just days after RwandAir flew its first flight to Guangzhou, China. Currently, RwandAir flies to 29 destinations, including Tel Aviv. RwandAir is growing in contrast to many African airlines who are struggling with high costs, according to CNBC.
Of recent, Rwanda has been prioritizing flights in and out of the country.
"Of course it goes with the priorities of Rwanda of increasing tourism," Permanent Secretary of the Rwanda's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Urujeni Bakuramutsa said according to the report. "Building also bridges with different cultures, culture tourism is really very important and great for our diplomacy."
The 6-hour flight can be caught from Kigali International Airport, the African country's capital, and signifies a strengthening of relationships between Israel and Rwanda.
Rwanda and Israel established diplomatic relations soon after the former Belgian colony gained independence in July 1962, but those ties were severed later in 1973 after the Yom Kippur War when most African states – under Arab pressure – broke relations with Israel. With the reestablishment of ties in October 1994, Rwanda sent an ambassador to Israel, but had to close the embassy because of budgetary constraints some six years later.
Rwanda’s embassy was reopened in Israel in the summer of 2015 after Rwandan Ambassador Joseph Rutabana’s appointment. In April 2019, Israel opened its first embassy in Rwanda, which will ease the visa process for Rwandans hoping to catch a flight to Israel. Before the embassy opened, Rwandans would have to obtain a visa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
"It signifies the relations that are tightening, we need to look for more passengers coming from Israel, passengers going to Israel, the outcoming, the incoming tourism, this is a challenge and we will do it very quickly. Israeli ambassador to Rwanda Ron Adam said to CNBC. "Now that they start coming, it will be much much easier. it's a new destination, it's a new adventure."
"Yesterday I gave the first visa to Rwanda air staff. So, it’s a very important process we are going through."In January, Transportation and Intelligence Minister Israel Katz and Rutabana signed an aviation agreement, which outlined that each country can operate up to seven scheduled flights between Ben Gurion Airport and the capital of Rwanda, Kigali.
This flight will open up business opportunities for Rwandans as well, artists and business minded people who took the inaugural flight told CNBC.
RwandAir first began its operation in December 2002. In 1994, Rwanda was forced to cease all domestic flights with its former national carrier Air Rwanda.