Analysts say carrier will struggle to compete at fair rates and service
Kampala, Ugannda | THE INDEPENDENT | Uganda’s national flag carrier, Uganda Airlines, has again announced that it will commence commercial flights at the end of this month.
The airline officials say the carrier received an operating licence, commonly known as Air Operator Certificate (AOC), from the Civil Aviation Authority on July 26 and it is ready to fly although it was scheduled to start commercial flights in July.
Jennifer Bamuturaki, the Commercial Director, Uganda Airlines confirmed that the carrier is now looking at commencing commercial flights on Aug. 28, using the recently acquired two CRJ aircraft with a sitting capacity of 76 passengers.
“Now that we have received the AOC…we are starting another process with the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to operationalise our two letter code that has been on the test mode, with all our reservations and accounting systems,” she said. “Once that is done, then, we will start our normal advertising (for flight bookings).
IATA is the industry association for international airlines. It has a membership of 290 airlines, and is charged with global commercial standards for the air transport industry.
Bamuturaki said the carrier will in the first phase start with flights to Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa, Bujumbura and Juba.
The airline will add more destinations including Kigali, Goma, Lusaka, Johannesburg, Harare and Bangui in the second phase following delivery of the third and fourth CRJ aircraft later in the year.
Uganda Airlines also plans to fly the A330-800neos from the French aeronautics manufacturer, Airbus, for long-haul flights. These include; London, Bangkok, Guangzhou, Dubai, Tel Aviv and New Delhi. It is still not clear when Uganda Airlines will commence flights to these destinations.
But as plans to return Uganda Airlines to the air continue apace, some analysts remain sceptical about whether this is the right time to get back into business. This comes at a time the aviation industry has become so competitive and most national carriers have to rely on their governments to fund operations.
These, among others include; Kenya Airways, RwandAir, South African Airways, Air Zimbabwe, Air Namibia, Air Botswana and Air India.
Uganda’s plan to revive the national carrier gained momentum on Dec. 31, 2016, when President Yoweri Museveni said in his New Year message that the government had finalized plans to revive the carrier in a bid to ease travel in and out of the country and reduce the local travelers’ expenditure on foreign airlines estimated to be around US$420 million per annum.
Started nearly four decades ago, Uganda Airlines was liquidated by Museveni’s government in 2001 due to mismanagement and accumulated debt.
Lessons Uganda Airlines can learn from Ethiopian Airlines
Experts in matters aviation say an airline eyeing to make profits need to hire professionals, and not politicians. They cite, for instance, the current Ethiopian Airlines CEO Tewolde Gebremariam, who began working for the Airlines’ cargo traffic handling department in 1985 and worked his way up the ladder gradually.
No complementary tickets
There should be no complementary tickets to civil servants just like it is with the Ethiopian Airlines. This is in stark contrast with the South African Airlines where politicians get free air tickets even after they have left the civil service. Similarly, there is need to hire the standard number of staff needed on any flight and not merely creating jobs to the many people.
No reliance on government loans
For an airline to operate profitably, the government needs to make up its mind if it is merely a strategic asset or simply doing business. Airlines such as Kenya Airways, South African Airways always anticipate government loans in their operations. This is not the case with Ethiopian Airlines.
Seek for infrastructure and skills in-house
Ethiopian Airlines has Africa’s largest aviation training academy. It trains over 4,000 pilots, marketers and flight-attendants annually.It also owns the largest cargo terminal in Africa, the largest technical maintenance facility, and plans to expand its catering facility to 80,000 meals per day, again making it the largest in Africa. The airline set itself a target of flying to 90 destinations by 2025 globally, but Gebremariam announced recently that they already serve 100 destinations.