Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Saudia, the national carrier of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made its inaugural direct flight to Entebbe International Airport from King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh.
The Saudi aircraft with over 250 passengers on board touched down at Entebbe International Airport at 7am. It was greeted with the water cannon salute and cutting of cake to mark the arrival of Saudia at Entebbe Airport.
The aircraft left with 300 passengers mainly migrant workers, residents and Saudi nationals. Saudia had initially planned to launch its flights to Entebbe in September last year in vain. Entebbe becomes its fourth destination in Africa.
It currently flies to Mauritius, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. Shafic Senteza, an employee of Saudia, says that the airline will operate two weekly flights. He also says the airline is targeting labour export companies and businesspeople.
Victor Shalton Odhiambo, a writer with Airspace Africa last year cited data from Sabre Market Intelligence indicating that traffic between Saudi Arabia and Uganda totalled 23,000 two-way passengers in 2019.
Vianney Luggya, the Spokesperson of Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA, says that Saudia’s entry is a vote of confidence in Uganda’s air transport system.
He says that the entry of Saudia is expected to boost passenger traffic to the Middle East, which has key destinations in United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman among others. He says that over 20 percent of the passengers registered at Entebbe Airport in 2020 were from or departed to the Middle East.
He says over 1.9 million passengers passed through Entebbe airport in 2019 and the traffic reduced to less than one million annually in the last two years due to the negative impact of COVID-19 on global travel.
The entry of Saudia brings to 17, the number of international flight operators at Entebbe. The last company to inaugurate its flights was Air Arabia on October 12th, 2021. It flies to Sharjah in the UAE.
Ronnie Mukundane, the Spokesperson of the Uganda Association of External Recruitment Agencies-UERA has welcomed the arrival of the new airline. He says that the over 200 licensed companies hope to get cheaper fares. “For now, we are happy about direct flights to Riyadh because the workers, mostly first-time travellers aboard Qatar Airways would wait for almost eight hours in transit at Doha. So non-stop flights are a great relief.”
The launch of Saudia’s direct flights also comes at a time when Uganda and the Saudi government have signed a bilateral agreement to protect the rights of Ugandan migrant workers in Saudi Arabia. The Uganda Embassy in Riyadh estimates that over 80,000 Ugandans are working in Saudi Arabia. The majority are domestic workers. The bilateral agreement stems from several complaints of mistreatment and harassment of the workers.
In October 2021, Uganda and Saudi Arabia renewed their ties by signing a Memorandum of Understanding-MOU to deepen cooperation. Gen. Jeje Odongo, the Foreign Affairs Minister attended the function where he urged his Saudi counterpart to invest in Uganda’s mining, tourism and agricultural sectors.
He also asked them to import milk, vegetable and spices among other products from Uganda.