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Rwanda's national carrier plans fleet expansion, listing

By Jenny Clover

KIGALI (Reuters) - Rwanda's national carrier plans to more than double its aircraft fleet in the next five years, and to list on the country's stock exchange once it turns profitable, a senior company executive said.

At present Rwandair has a fleet of seven aircraft. It plans to increase this to 17 planes over the next five years, which would allow the airline to expand its route network to Europe, China and India, Chief Executive Officer John Mirenge told Reuters in an interview late on Friday.

The carrier - which is loss-making and 99 percent government-owned - recently added a new 75-seater Bombardier CRJ-900 plane which it bought from the Canadian company. The second is due to arrive on Monday.

"We have plans that after 2015 - after we have consolidated as a regional carrier - we will start operating out of the continent into Europe and also China," Mirenge said.

"We are already talking to Boeing about their 787s that can reach Europe and China with some good cargo holds that will carry the excess baggage that are required."

He said the new CRJ-900s will join Rwandair's fleet of two Boeing 737-800s, bought last year from Boeing, two Boeing 737-500s that have been operating since 2010 and a Bombardier Dash-8 turboprop that operates on domestic routes.

The seven-strong fleet is a mixture of owned and leased planes. The projected fleet of 17 would also include both owned and leased aircrafts.

"We are not looking at ourselves going into a buying spree because that burdens your balance sheet and it's not a good mix. So if the demand on a market requires it there are always planes to lease, as long as they can pay for their own survival," he said.

Mirenge, who joined Rwandair as CEO November 2010, said the company hopes to become profitable by 2015-16 and would ideally become a publicly listed company sometime around 2018-2020.

"But the government, I think, plans to start progressively divesting much earlier than that, as soon as the company is viable and starts breaking even," he added.

He said the company was also expanding its destinations and will be flying to Juba, South Sudan soon, with other possible routes including Cameroon, Zambia, Ivory Coast and Zanzibar.

Mirenge said the biggest challenges for the airline included high fuel costs, outsourcing of maintenance and the relocation fees of its team of 60 largely expatriate pilots.

Rwandair is a relatively small airline when compared with other larger carriers on the continent like Kenya Airways , South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.

(Editing by George Obulutsa and Sanjeev Miglani)

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