When earlier last week details emerged that RwandAir would temporarily suspend flights to Kamemebe, many questions were asked about the reasons with much speculation involved, inspite of the mention of runway repairs. The speculation was very likely based on the closure for traffic of the Gisenyi Airport, where security reasons – the airport is very close to the border with Congo DR – were the main driver to halt flights from Kigali.
The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority has reportedly signed contracts now to have the Kamembe runway re-surfaced and even lengthened to overall 2.2 kilometres, so on completion it would be able to handle larger aircraft than the present runway length of just 1.5 kilometres permits. Emerging potholes and the top layer of tarmac influenced the decision taken to have the airport closed for fixed wing traffic and from the beginning of November the work will go underway.
Also the parking area outside the relatively new terminal building will be expanded to allow for more planes to park, increasing the capacity of handling several aircraft at once.
Kamembe is the main link for many Congolese coming across the land border into the Rusizi District to fly with Rwandair via Kigali to other destinations in East, South and West Africa as well as to Dubai but also caters for a growing number of tourists coming to this part of the country for two main attractions. Nearby is the Nyungwe Forest National Park, which has in recent years enjoyed growing popularity and attracted rising visitor numbers. Kamembe however is also the starting, or ending point of the Congo Nile Trail, which runs between Gisenyi in Rubavu District along the shores of Lake Kivu via Kibuye / Karongi District to Kamembe, covering some 227 kilometres. The trail can be hiked, explored by mountain bike tours or alternatively navigated by car along the scenic route hugging both lake shores and the hills above. Trained guides are available for this extraordinary trip across rural Rwanda as is accommodation along the route, either in trail base camps or by using one of the many locally owned hotels which have sprung up over the past few years.
The upgrading of the airport infrastructure will facilitate more flights and larger aircraft, and tourists can be in Nyungwe in two hours from the time of taking off from Kigali, landing at Kamembe and driving to one of the many lodges which serve visitors to Nyungwe. That compares with, depending on the route, at least 5 hours by road.