Sanitizer dispensers everywhere, thermal cameras on all entry points and a temperature-taking robot that warns passengers to wear their masks properly -these are some of the measures that have been put in place at Kigali International Airport (KIA) ahead of reopening in less than 2 weeks.
Rwanda announced that it will reopen airports on August 1, nearly 5 months after the country stopped all in coming and outbound flights as part of the measures to stop the spread of the New Coronavirus.
Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority (RCAA), the national carrier RwandAir and Rwanda Airports Company (RAC) have been working tirelessly to ensure that by August 1, the airport has all the necessary safety measures in place as the country braces itself for the resumption of commercial flights.
Silas Udahemuka, the Director General of RCAA said that they have been preparing for the reopening following the instructions on resumption of flights issued by the Ministry of Infrastructure on July 4.
“Even before the instructions, we had been preparing for the resumption of operations. We fully believe that we are ready and prepared to have a successful resumption of air travel operations,”
“The measures that we have put in place are anchored on both global and national recommendations. They are basically around what we call the public health corridor. It starts with an individual, a passenger, who must be clean, into a clean airport, via a clean aircraft, all the way,” Udahemuka said.
He pointed out that the recommendations and guidelines are very elaborate to deal with any loopholes in the process that would result into new infections of COVID-19. He said the measures have been tested and they have proved to work.
“We are very comfortable. We have done this oversight over the last few months and air operators and ground support operators have exceedingly adhered to the guidelines that were developed.
He said the recommendations have been reviewed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the ICAO Council on Aviation Recovery Taskforce while nationally, the Ministry of Health and line institutions like Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC) have ensured that the resumption of flights is risk-free.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of RwandAir, Yvonne Manzi Makolo said that ever since flights were suspended in March, the airline has been preparing itself for the time flights will resume, working with the regulator to ensure that all safety measures are in place.
“Onboard the aircraft our crew will be wearing personal protective gear -gowns, goggles, masks and gloves. We want to ensure that the boarding process is also done while observing social distancing as well,”
“So, we’ll be boarding in small groups, starting at the back of the plane all the way to the front. We will be making sure that the aircrafts are disinfected and deeply cleaned after each flight,” Makolo said.
She pointed out that all planes have been fitted with hyper filters, which ensure that all the germs and viruses are extracted from the cabin so that the cabin is safe to breathe.
“We have also modified our menus on board to try and reduce the contact between crew and the passengers as much as possible. That’s again to protect our passengers and crew members as well,” Makolo explained.
Among other things, the airline has introduced a new policy of one piece of cabin luggage per passenger in order to avoid congestion in the aisles and people touching too many bags on board as well.
Makolo said that though social distancing on the plane is expected to be difficult, the precaution measures taken before boarding, during boarding and onboard will be vital in ensuring.
Demand, Safety Measures
Makolo said that in terms of bookings, they are seeing an increase in demand especially on the routes they want to start with, mainly Dubai, as well as regional and continental routes, as people slowly resume traveling. She pointed out that they hope the demand will gradually increase.
“There’s a lot of anxiety about travel during this time, but we’re putting all measures in place to ensure that it’s safe for passengers to travel,”
“So, in terms of routes, we are limited by the fact that there are countries that are still having travel restrictions. We are going to start with the other countries which are currently open or which will be opened by August 1,”
Makolo said that other routes will be slowly incorporated as countries lift travel restrictions. The routes that will be opened include, Nairobi, Lusaka, Cotonou, Libreville, among others.
The airport has been fitted with thermal cameras that capture temperatures of passengers and a robot, christened ‘Urumuri’, which will be assisting medical staff at the airport.
Explaining the guidelines, the Director General of RBC, Dr Sabin Nsanzimana said that all passengers, including those in transit will be required to show proof of COVlD-19 PCR negative test from a certified laboratory, taken within 72 hours of arriving in Rwanda.
As per guidelines, for passengers entering Rwanda, a second PCR test will be conducted upon arrival, with results delivered within 24 hours during which time they will remain in designated locations at own cost.
Dr Nsanzimana allayed any fears of newly imported cases when flights resume, pointing out that the guidelines will ensure a safety path through for passengers, pointing out that as the pandemic evolved, measures to contain it also evolved.
“I would say that today we know better how to manage COVID-19 than we were when we first recorded the first case here. We have been able to figure out how the dynamics of the virus change,”
“Our capacity to test and contain also improved tremendously. We are ready to ensure that more infections don’t come on planes as was the case when the pandemic broke out,” Dr Nsanzimana said.
The airport has been fitted with hand sanitizer dispensers at all points of possible contact, physical distancing markings while all airport equipment will be disinfected regularly. Self-check-in machines have also been introduced to minimise contact.
Passengers planning to travel to Rwanda have been encouraged to familiarize themselves with the new procedures at the airport, especially, about the norms of social distancing, minimum touch, baggage limitations, COVID-I9 status declaration, E-payment, and the requirement to use only authorized taxis.
Travelers are advised to arrive at the airport at least 3 hours before a flight. Arriving passengers will be required to complete a Passenger Locator Form before arriving in Rwanda.
The form will be found on the Directorate General of Immigration and Emigration website. All travelers who test positive or come from areas where there is confinement will not be allowed to travel.