Uganda Airlines recently won the award for World’s Youngest Aircraft Fleet for 2021 from ch-aviation, with an average aircraft age of only 1.15 years. While they are known as the flag carrier of the named country, not many details are known about their strategy, plans, and why they have converted so much industry attention. Today, Eways Aviation will divulge everything you need to know about Uganda’s fascinating national carrier.
If you haven’t already read our companion article about Uganda, its airports, and the other airlines that operate there, you can read it here.
The first airline
Uganda Airlines has a long history, having been originally founded in the late 1970s with two Boeing 707s. It operated long-haul international routes to Europe and the Middle East, and eventually grew large enough to partner with other regional airlines like South African Airways and Air Tanzania. However, by the late 1990s, air travel growth had slowed and it was struggling to remain profitable.
The government made moves to privatize the airline and move it to a corporate model. However, the government failed to secure the right bid for the airline and took the unfortunate action to liquidate the carrier in 2001. Since then, the country’s aviation gap has been filled by charter operators, with its citizens forced to fly on international competitors.
Rebirth of Uganda Airlines
In 2016, after much discussion and debate, the Ugandan government decided to relaunch the airline. This was done for several reasons; primarily being to ensure regional links for Ugandan nationals (they no longer had to take expensive flights through other countries), to support tourism, and to encourage the development of the emerging oil industry in the country.
“Its revival will reduce the cost of air transport and ease connectivity to and from Uganda”, Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said at the launch ceremony as reported by Aljazeera in 2019.
Then CEO of the new venture Ephraim Bagenda, pointed out that there was already an existing two million Ugandan passengers per year traveling through their hub airport that they could tap into; “All those currently travel on foreign airlines,” he told Reuters. “We want part of that cake.”
This new airline would be different from its predecessor and would start small to ensure profitability. The government decided to acquire six aircraft, two rare Airbus A330-800s that were suited for short runways and long-range flight, as well as four CRJ900s for regional destinations. This would mean that they have the youngest fleet in the world, with an average age of only 1.15 years! With only 24 pilots for operations, the new Uganda Airline would be a tight, well-trained efficient operation.
“We undertake to be a world-class airline that will exceed customer expectations through high-quality service,” said Ugandan Airlines CEO Ephraim Bagenda at the launch ceremony at Entebbe International Airport.
Initial plans had the airline operating routes throughout the Africa region, to Kenya, Tanzania, Somalia, South Sudan, and Burundi – with a goal to be profitable within two years.
What happened next?
During the global Coronavirus crisis, the airline and its hub airport were shut down for six months in an effort to stop the spread of the virus. This had a huge impact on the carrier and unfortunately, ended the ‘upward trend’ of the airline’s progress. While Uganda Airlines managed to generate $9.98 million US during the Coronavirus crisis, it was only 10% of the projected profits of $92.8 million US – leaving a loss of 27.4 million US.
“The legislators commended the airline for the progress made and pledged all the necessary support to the national carrier,” the airline noted in a media statement discussing the losses.
The airline managed to roll out its tenth destination to Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by December last year, with eyes to move forward into a brighter future following the industry’s recovery.
In early 2021, the carrier secured an incredibly rare London Heathrow slot with an aim to offer five flights a week at an unknown cost. This in addition to flights to Dubai, Guangzhou, and Mumbai with its Airbus A330-800 fleet. When the flights will begin is a major question as both the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has yet to authorize the service (and the aircraft), and the UK is under lockdown until July.
“The aircraft are not yet certified by the regulator but we are hoping to have completed that process by the end of April. If the UK relaxes travel restrictions, we should be ready to launch London sometime in May.” said a spokesperson from the airline to Simple Flying.
In addition, the airline has expanded its pilot workforce to 50 pilots (with five being female, two of which are rated to fly the A330-800) and signed a deal with Rolls-Royce for total care of its Trent 7000 A330-800 engines. This deal will mean that the planes keep flying no matter what, and that passengers can be confident that they are in safe hands thanks to the expert outsourcing of maintenance.
Cornwell Muleya, Acting CEO of Uganda Airlines, said, “We are proud to include our new Rolls-Royce powered Airbus A330neos into our fleet and this agreement will ensure that our Trent 7000 engines will be maintained to world-leading levels of service.”
What is the airline’s plan going forward?
These new operations are all part of the airline’s new plan going forward – to monopolize all major international routes from this area of Africa to the world, and take the mantle away from rivals in Tanzania, Rwanda, and Kenya. This will be accomplished with their fleet of young, fuel-efficient widebody aircraft, and by securing prestigious routes to some of the world’s best airports. Moving forward, the airline hasn’t ruled out acquiring further widebodies as it becomes the de facto hub airline for the region and secures its aviation future.
Uganda Airlines seems to be avoiding all the mistakes of not only its predecessors, but other new airlines in Africa – by focusing on profitable routes and a cunning business plan that has put its rivals on notice. But the marketplace in 2021 is full of obstacles and it may take more than a vision to survive in a consolidating environment. We can expect big things from this airline, and can’t wait to watch it grow.