“No river can return to its source, yet all rivers must have a beginning.” This American proverb fits perfectly with Uganda’s revived national carrier that had last taken to the skies close to two decades ago and it is now all history.
Uganda airlines kick-started air operations fully owned by government of Uganda in 1977 with an initial share capital of USD 70 million and comprising of 15 carriers routing through Africa, Middle East and Europe after the collapse of the East African Airlines and the continued bitter relations between the three East African countries that was coupled with failure to clear outstanding debts for air operations by Uganda and Tanzania.
The Airlines was initially ran as a profitable and viable undertaking, but towards the mid- 1990’s, it ran into severe problems which included among others accumulating loads of debts caused by internal financial mismanagement political corruption
In May 2001, the carrier faced liquidation after all possible interventions to privatize the airline seemed futile when potential bidders pulled out. By the time of its downfall, the airline had more than 2,000 employees yet it was left with no aircraft to run and they eventually lost jobs.
Several interventions were made by the government to revive the national carrier after its downfall in 2001 by seeking private sector players to take up the place of the national airline, but all attempts failed.
Among the private sector firms that had failed attempts included Africa One which died out before its first birthday due to limited capitalization. The East African Airlines was established and operated for two years but soon after closed down due to poor equipment and investment woes.
Captain Joseph Roy’s Royal Daisy Airlines came on the market in November 2005 with hopes to champion the regional scheduled and charter services out of Entebbe International but closed business in 2010 after operating for five years.
Victoria International Airlines (partly owned by Government with 20% shares) lasted for only 2 months, due to poor funding. Air Uganda was then established in 2007 as part of the preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
On 17 July 2014, Air Uganda suspended operations indefinitely after the issuer of its licence, the UCAA, ran into problems. The UCAA had failed a safety audit by the International Civil Aviation Organization in June 2014, resulting in the UCAA withdrawing licenses it had issued to air operators.
During the reading of FY 2017/18 budget, Matia Kasaija, Minister for Finance revealed that the government will work on purchasing a national carrier in the budget for FY 2018/19.
In March 2019, Parliament approved a government request for a Ush280 billion supplementary budget to purchase two bombardier planes from Canada. The approval of the funds was done during a special plenary session that was chaired by deputy speaker Jacob Oulanyah which was part of a bigger supplementary expenditure request of Shs 770.2 billion that government had tabled before parliament before.
The airline received its first two CRJ900 planes from Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier (BBDb.TO) in April but had to wait for two months to receive an operating certificate from Civil Aviation Authority (C.A.A) operating as Uganda National Air Company (UNAC).
Each Bombardier cost about USD 27 million while the carrier that will be brought in the country in 2020 and 2021 will cost about USD 110 million for each of the Airbus aircraft.
Uganda airlines made its inaugural flight to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya after the flag off by president Museveni and first lady Janet Kataha and in the presence of the Minister of Works and Transport, Monica Azuba Ntege, Minister of State (Tourism), Kiwanda Suubi and Members of Parliament, among other guests. The inaugural flight had Government officials and journalists on board.
The national airline started with two Bombardier CRJ 900 aircraft with flights to seven destinations including Nairobi, Mombasa, Dar-es-salaam, Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Bujumbura and Juba.
On Monday this week, the 3rd and 4th set of bombardiers were delivered into the country to bring the number to four. They touched down at Entebbe Intentional Airport at about 15:05 being flown by a team of Ugandan captains including Stephen Ariong, Emma Mutebi, Charles Kabarinda, Kenn Fisher, Martin Stnunz and Quality control officer Micheal Kaliisa.
The jets first made rounds at the airport and the city (Kampala) as a signal of its revival before touching down at Entebbe Airport to be received by Min. of state for works and transport Gen. Katumba Wamala accompanied by Permanent Secretary Waiswa Bageya.
The 3rd aircraft was baptized as 5X-KDP to mean Kidepo National game park and the 4th was baptized 5X-KNP to mean Kabalega National Park. The airline will now expand its route network to nine including Kinshasha in DRC, Zanzibar, Asmara, Hargeisa, Lusaka, Harare, Johannesburg, Djibouti and Addis Ababa.
A report by NPA shows that currently, Uganda loses about USD 540m annually, in form of high transport costs mostly resulting from extra charges to passengers moving in and out at Entebbe International Airport due to absence of a national carrier.
In an article by the Min. of transport Azuba Ntege read that the revival of the National Airline is based on;
- The need to enhance the country’s competitiveness by reducing the cost of air transport and easing connectivity to and from Uganda.
- To support faster harnessing of opportunities in the economy to promote tourism, agriculture, minerals, oil and gas.
- To meet the growing demand for air transport (both passenger and cargo)
Africa air business shows great potential, More Africans are flying than ever before and the numbers are expected to grow by 5% annually in the next 20 years as reported by DW.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that the continent will see 274 million air passengers by 2036.
It’s also an underserved market. It can be necessary to fly from one African country to a neighbouring nation via hubs such Addis Ababa, Johannesburg, Nairobi – or even via Europe or Dubai – because there are no direct flights, DW reports
African carriers could help fill these connection gaps.
The revival of Uganda national carrier will push the tourism in the Pearl of Africa to the peak by enhancing direct flight routes to Uganda for tourists after exclusions of the initial inconveniences associated with various stopovers.
There has been an increase in the number of tourists coming into the country. In 2019, Uganda received a total of 1.7 million travellers, noting an increase from 1.4 million travellers that had been received in 2014. The revival of Uganda airlines will undeniably raise the number of travellers higher to outcompete for the neighbouring tourism destination.
With the current traffic at Entebbe equating to about 1.8 million passengers, a rise from 1 million passengers in 2014, which is a great achievement, it is only expected to shoot up in the coming years and also high rates of educated Ugandans having no active jobs, the airline will help to take a share of these individuals.
BY FRANK SEMATA