By Victor Shalton
Uganda Airlines Faces Network Challenges
COVID-19 has drastically decreased airline traffic across all routes, raising questions as to whether the current crisis will lead to structural changes within the industry.
On the network side, this includes a debate about when and if traffic will return to normal. Uganda Airlines — like other carriers —will have to cater to these challenges as it faces a ban on its newest long-haul flights to Dubai.
The Entebbe, Uganda-Dubai, the United Arab Emirates service launch was suspended after three months — disrupting the airline’s growth plans. This flight service was expected to be the most lucrative route.
The October launch of the Uganda Airlines flight came two months after the United Arab Emirates lifted a travel ban on several countries including Uganda in August, put in place in June last year — due to surging new coronavirus infections.
According to the Airline’s acting Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Bamuturaki, Uganda Airlines has been operating between near to full capacity since it’s maiden flights to the United Arab Emirates.
“On the first commercial flight, we had 80 passengers on our 258-passenger Airbus to Dubai. On the second flight, we had 220 passengers,” Bamuturaki, said, on the capacity of Uganda Airlines.
This has been the same picture on the regional routes like Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Johannesburg. However, navigating new testing rules and entry restrictions as more details about the new variant emerge is proving to be a big challenge for the airline.
Passengers from Uganda — along with numerous other African nations — have been barred from entering Dubai since December 28th as part of official policies to try and mitigate the spread of Omicron.
“Business was affected by the ban. We were making 60,000 to 70,000 US Dollars per flight before the ban,” the CEO says in regards to the Dubai flight suspension.
The carrier operated direct flight services between Entebbe, Uganda and Dubai, the United Arab Emirates on the Airbus A330-800 Neo three times a week, hoping to increase these to five with increasing demand. However, Bamuturaki notes that cargo remains crucial for the airline, allowing it to record notable income despite the travel ban.
While recently speaking to AviaDev Africa Podcast, Bamuturaki reiterated the need for mid-range jet equipment to join the airline’s fleet.
“When you look at the type of aircraft we have now and based on the routes we want to fly, we realized we needed a mid-range jet, something between the Airbus and the CRJ,” Bamuturaki said.
However, Bamuturaki expressed the hope that the induction of new mid-range equipment to the Pearl of Africa’s fleet would further enhance the national flag carrier’s capability to operate flights to more new destinations.
“So the plan is to look for equipment that carries between 120 and 150 passengers that can do long-range without a stop-over. At the moment, with the CRJ, we fly direct to South Africa, to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo, but we have to ‘cut’ it because of weight, volume and all that. It’s got its limitations which makes it unprofitable on the route. Also, baggage becomes an issue. So the need for a 120-150 seater is becoming important for us,” Bamuturaki added.