On August 28, Uganda Airlines will launch its commercial flights with an inaugural flight to Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi.
It will, thereafter, fly twice every day to Nairobi and Juba (South Sudan) in addition to a single flight to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, plus four weekly flights to Mogadishu, Somalia.
Flying again after more than 17 years since it was grounded, Uganda Airlines comes with an ambitious plan that its directors hope will position the airline in a vantage point to capture a sizeable share of the nearly two million travelers that fly in and out of the country annually.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) records show that more than 1.8 million passengers were handled by Entebbe International Airport in 2018, up from 1.65 million the year before. There is also a recorded growth of 41.9 percent in the number of domestic passenger traffic between 2017 and 2018, which Uganda Airlines wants to leverage on to outpace the foreign players.
In 2017, the number of domestic passengers were 18,824, and moved up to 26,711 in 2018.
“The success of a national carrier comes from the support the home market gives it. We want you [Ugandans] to own this airline, we want you to patronize it,” said Ephraim Bagyenda, the Uganda Airlines chief executive officer (CEO), during a media launch of the airline in Kampala recently.
Efforts to revive the airline gained momentum in April with the delivery of two CRJ900 aircraft from Bombardier but a lengthy certification and licensing process held back plans to have the commercial flights commence in July. This process was concluded on July 30, the day International Air Transport Association (IATA) confirmed the allocation of the UR code to the airline – allowing it to start ticketing for its flights.
“We want to disrupt the market, we are not coming as underdogs in the industry, we are coming to compete with the big names in the industry,” said Jennifer Bamuturaki, the airline’s commercial director.
The airline promises lower fares to its destinations. Its two-month promotional fares are slightly lower than the existing fares by other market players.
The promotional rates for return tickets are $278 (Nairobi), $225 (Juba), $590 (Mogadishu), $286 (Dar-es-Salaam), $292 (Bujumbura), $325 (Mombasa) and $311(Kilimanjaro). How they plan to compete with just two aircraft, Bamuturaki said, they will in the meantime rely on partnerships with other airlines.
“Until we take delivery of the remaining two CRJ900s, we shall be flying to those four destinations but that does not mean that we won’t be marketing the other routes in our plan. We are going to sign interline agreements with other players in the market,” Bamuturaki said.
Interline agreements enable airlines to handle passengers traveling on itineraries that require multiple flights on multiple airlines. Such an agreement allows passengers to change from one flight on one airline to another airline without having to check-in again.
Once the second pair of CRJ900 is delivered in September, the airline will expand its wings with additional flights to Bujumbura (Burundi), Mombasa (Kenya) and Kilimanjaro (Tanzania) as it awaits the delivery of the two A330-neo aircraft from Airbus for its long-haul routes.
The initial planned long-haul routes are to London and Guangzhou (China) with additional routes to Mumbai (India) and Dubai (United Arab Emirates) under consideration.
“Our mandate is to market Uganda as a tourism destination. In doing this, we have some areas to focus on: the people – Uganda as a country with different ethnicities, our different cultures and the places; our natural attractions that make travelers want to come to Uganda,” Bamuturaki said.
Bamuturaki said their marketing strategy has, however, been received with negativity from Ugandans probably because of lack of information.
“If I am marketing destination Uganda, I don’t market it to Ugandans but to the outside world who don’t know about Uganda. And when in Uganda, I advertise everywhere I fly,” Bamuturaki said.
Meanwhile, Uganda Airlines has signed a one-year contract with National Aviation Services (NAS) to ground handle for the airline.
“As we build capacity so that we can ground handle ourselves, NAS (formerly Entebbe Handling Services [Enhas] will offer the service but our coming does not mean that we are going to force the others out,” Bagyenda said.
NAS, DAS Handling Limited and Fresh Handling Limited which specialises in handling exports of cut flowers, horticultural and agricultural products, are the three licensed ground handling companies at Entebbe.