in Air Transport / Features

Uganda Airlines in it for the long haul

Posted 29 March 2021 · Add Comment

While the rest of the world grapples with the Covid-19 traffic downturn, Uganda Airlines will branch out into long-haul operations in early 2021 after receiving its first Airbus A330-800neo.

Water reception: The first A330 received a special salute as it arrived in Uganda. Picture: Uganda Airlines

According to Uganda Airlines CEO, Cornwell Muleya, despite the pandemic: “The fleet development plan has remained unchanged under the initial business plan.” Victoria Moores reports.

State-owned Uganda Airlines launched operations in August 2019, with an ambitious strategy to serve 20 destinations by the end of 2021, despite a nine-month financing delay.

Even in late 2019 – before the Covid-19 virus hit – Muleya acknowledged that his team had their work cut out. They had to rapidly build a regional feeder network, to create connectivity, before the two A330s were scheduled to arrive in December 2020 and January 2021.

The Ugandan Government had purchased the two new A330s directly from Airbus in 2018 and they did not want to postpone the deliveries, even after the delayed start.

So, Uganda Airlines quickly ramped up its regional fleet to four Bombardier CRJ900s, after introducing the type on to the Ugandan register for the first time, and was serving eight routes by March 2020.

“Until March 2020, we had opened eight routes out of Entebbe as follows: Bujumbura (Burundi), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Juba (South Sudan), Mombasa (Kenya), Kilimanjaro (Tanzania), Mogadishu (Somalia), Nairobi (Kenya) and Zanzibar (Tanzania),” Muleya said.

“We were yet to open other routes under our regional strategy, including Kinshasa, Lubumbashi, Goma (all in the Democratic Republic of the Congo), Johannesburg (South Africa), Addis Ababa (Ethiopia), Khartoum (Sudan), Lusaka (Zambia), Harare (Zimbabwe), Lagos (Nigeria) and Accra (Ghana).”

Then the coronavirus struck and the Ugandan Government halted international scheduled flights into and out of Entebbe.

“All our scheduled flights stopped on March 23, 2020. We did not fly scheduled flights again until the airport was [re]opened on October 1, 2020,” Muleya said. “During this lockdown period we were only allowed to operate charter and repatriation flights in and out of Uganda.”

Uganda Airlines gradually began to restore its network in October, but many markets remained closed or heavily restricted. By early December, the carrier had resumed limited frequencies to Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Mogadishu and Juba.

“These restrictions are gradually being lifted and we have now increased flights to Nairobi, as an example,” Muleya said, in early December. “In the next few weeks, we expect to open Johannesburg and Kinshasa.”

Meanwhile, the first Uganda Airlines A330 left the Airbus paint shop on October 16 and was handed over during a delivery ceremony on December 21, arriving into Entebbe on December 22.

“The two A330s are in three-class configuration, with business-class, premium economy and economy-class,” Muleya said. “The two aircraft will be used to connect Uganda to London (UK), Dubai (UAE), Guangzhou (China) and Mumbai (India).”

In earlier interviews, Muleya said Uganda Airlines might also deploy the A330s on longer routes across the African continent.

Moving from the 76-seat CRJ900s to the A330s will be a huge jump for Uganda Airlines, but Muleya is ready for the challenge.

“Our business plan has not changed because, fundamentally, we believe that the markets will return once the pandemic subsides and a vaccine is implemented. We are concentrating on building a strong airline organisation and conserving our cash resources, so that Uganda Airlines can be around when the markets are fully open again.

“The network development plan is the same because Uganda needs the connectivity, within Africa and beyond, for its social and economic development. This requires Uganda Airlines to ensure it completes the set-up processes, including bringing in the aircraft needed to operate the planned network,” Muleya said.

Uganda Airlines’ namesake predecessor collapsed in 2001, while privately owned Air Uganda launched in 2007 and closed its doors in 2014.

Air Uganda flew CRJ200s and Boeing MD87s to Bujumbura, Dar es Salam, Juba, Kigali (Rwanda), Kilimanjaro, Mogadishu, Mombasa and Nairobi.

Muleya said the A330 delivery is a “big milestone”, after nearly two decades without intercontinental flights.


 

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