The refounded carrier has welcomed two Bombardier CRJ900 regional jets from Canada at Kampala-Entebbe International Airport, with two CRJ900s to follow later this year. In 2020, the airline intends to take the next big step, when two cargo-friendly A330-800Neo passenger aircraft will be deployed on intercontinental sectors. The deal for the aircraft was inked between the Ugandan government and Airbus last December.
The rebirth of the national airline is seen not only by Ugandan aviation enthusiasts as a national event. Evidenced by the fact that the East African country’s president Yoweri Museveni welcomed
the two CRJ900s personally at Entebbe Airport last week.
The aircraft’s arrivals mark an astonishing and courageous comeback of the Ugandan carrier that bit the dust in 2001 after it ran out of funds. Courageous, because the African aviation market is flooded with low-cost airlines resulting in cut throat and predatory price wars. Local market experts expect that this price war over passengers and air freight is likely to increase in the years ahead rather than leveling out.
Diving into the shark pool
The Ugandan government decided to dive into this shark tank despite the financial risks. Officials refer to studies testifying that there is a market for the newcomer, enabling the airline to
sustain against its direct competitors Air Tanzania, Kenya Airways or even Ethiopian Airlines.
First routes to be serviced from Kampala-Entebbe Airport are Lusaka (Zambia), Khartoum (Sudan), Bujumbura (Burundi), and Kinshasa (Dem Rep of Congo).
Once the wide-bodied A330-800 Neos have joined the fleet, cargo will become an important source of revenue.
No option to a national carrier
According to president Museveni, the launch of a national airline is without choice. Convenient air connectivity is the tool to attract international investors, pumping money into the country’s
economy, creating new jobs, he pointed out. Also, tourism would stagnate with revenues generated in this sector going south.
In the politician’s welcoming speech, he addressed the carrier’s marketing division to seize on the country’s tourism potential to grow the newcomer’s business. “A bulk of educated and wealthy Ugandans are those that fled (former dictator) Idi Amin’s tyrannic regime but have always wanted to return to their home country.”
Uganda Airlines can earn massive revenues if it strategically markets to Ugandan’s living in the UK, North America or South Africa. “Many of them are desirous of coming back home as visitors or in order to reside permanently,” stated Mr Museveni.
Profitable after 12 months, managers predict
His government had planned to complete the Air Operator Certification admission process earlier this year and launch the airline in April. But that date has now been pushed back to next June, following disagreements over five key posts - among them the chief pilot, director of operations and director of maintenance. Finally, Museveni intervened personally, navigating the US$116 million project back on track.
According to predictions by the carrier’s interim board, Uganda Airlines will be profitable after one year. Influential voices also demand the building of a maintenance hangar rather than subjecting the newcomer to technical shops in South Africa or Europe. “This will definitively bleed the revenue flows of Uganda Airlines,” warned Captain Mike Mukula in a public statement.