Kampala: Uganda Airlines, in its second avatar, has set in motion an ambitious plan to become one of the key growth drivers of the country’s tourism sector. If things pan out as per plan, Uganda’s national carrier will commence flights to London, Dubai and Guangzhou (China) in early 2021. In an exclusive interview with Destination Reporter on the sidelines of POATE 2020 at Speke Resort in Kampala, Cornwell Muleya, CEO, Uganda Airlines informed that the airline will acquire two A330-800s later in December 2020, which will be pressed into service to connect with the overseas markets.
Founded in 1977, Uganda Airlines was grounded in 2001 due to financial constraints. Back then, it flew to eight destinations. In 2016, the Government decided to resurrect the airline as part of Uganda’s Vision 2040 which sets the long-term aspirations of transforming the country to a prosperous one within 30 years. The decision was also the result of the realisation of the significant role an airline can play in enhancing the country’s competitiveness by reducing the cost of air transport and easing connectivity to and from Uganda.
The airline commenced operations in September 2019 and now, its fleet includes four Bombardier CRJ-900 jet airliners, each having 76 seats in a two-class configuration. Today, Uganda Airlines, with Entebbe International Airport as its hub, operates flights to 18 destinations within Uganda. In the region, it flies to Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Burundi and Tanzania. “By June, we will commence flights to Zambia, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Ethiopia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In a day, we operate around 10 flights now. Once, the new routes become operational, we will be operating around 84 flights a week within the region,” Muleya said.
According to the CEO, passenger traffic to London, Dubai and Guangzhou remains the highest for many decades. “Having been a colony of the British, traditionally, Ugandans have been doing business with the Europeans via London. There used to be a direct flight to London from Uganda by British Airways that was stopped three years ago. So, that route presents a big opportunity for us. China and Dubai are the major source markets for the majority of the traders in Uganda, which is also part of the East African Community (EAC), comprising Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda and South Sudan. The additional traffic we see to the Middle East is the labour traffic, which has exploded in the last five to six years. In our assessment, there is scope for operating daily flights to these three locations,” he said.
Meanwhile, the heavy traffic to Ahmedabad in India from Uganda has also got the attention of Uganda Airlines. “That’s one route we cannot afford to ignore. However, our current fleet strength is not adequate to ensure the required frequency of flights to service the route. Hence, as an interim measure, we are in talks with some of the Middle East-based carriers to operate flights on a codeshare basis. As we talk, discussions are going on and we would be making formal announcements soon,” Muleya said.
This year, Uganda Airlines is expecting to take nearly two million passengers out of Entebbe. “Sixty per cent of the passenger traffic from Entebbe is generated from Uganda itself. This means, more than a million Ugandans would be travelling this year. Currently, Uganda has a very young population, with eighty per cent of the people in the age group of 15 to 35 years. So, it’s an agile population looking to travel. Considering this, we expect passenger traffic to double in the next few years. This is the market that Uganda Airlines is preparing for,” he added.
Besides tourism, the effective functioning of Uganda Airlines will also help the country capitalize on emerging opportunities in the oil & gas and agriculture sectors in the country. Uganda, being located at the centre of Africa, holds a great advantage in terms of acting as a connectivity hub for the entire continent. Moreover, the construction of Hoima International Airport (also known as Kabaale International Airport) in western Uganda is also underway. The airport is expected to be completed in April 2022, according to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA).