ENTEBBE – After a hiatus that lasted nearly 20 years, Uganda Airlines has once again taken to the skies restoring its status and pride as the national carrier.
Commercial services resumed on Wednesday, August 28, with a debut flight from Entebbe to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Nairobi in neighboring Kenya that the airline hoped to usher in a profitable new era for the formerly debt-ridden brand.
The Bombardier aircraft CRJ-900 has a seating capacity of 76 passengers.
The flight departed at Entebbe Airport on time at 6:05am touched down at JKIA at exactly 7:00am – five minutes ahead of the scheduled landing.
The passengers included; businessman Peter Ssenkungu, Workers’ Union leader Usher Wilson Owere, his wife Evelyn Were, Kwezi Tabaro, Joseph Kasigazi, and journalists Alon Mwesigwa, Olive Nakatudde, and Gyegenda Ssemakula.
Uganda Airlines said its fleet of twin-engined Bombardier CRJ-900 regional jet airliners will soon connect to other destinations including; Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, Mogadishu in Somalia and Juba in South Sudan.
Farther flung places will follow, says Jennifer Bamuturaki, the airline’s Director in charge of marketing and public affairs.
Services to Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ghana, South Africa, and Rwanda are expected to be added with effect from September 2019.
The airline was initially scheduled to resume operations in July but had to gain certification to prove its crews can fly safely to any part of the world.
Passenger traffic to boost the economy
The revival of the the brand was originally founded by former president Idi Amin in 1977 but was later grounded in 2001 amid financial difficulties.
According to Ms. Monica Ntege Azuba, the minister of works and transport, the airline is aimed at capitalizing on opportunities in agriculture, minerals, tourism and oil and gas sectors.
Recent years have seen growing international interest in Uganda as a vacation destination with travelers drawn by beautiful national parks, beach resorts, and wildlife such as rare mountain gorillas.
Increased passenger traffic at the country’s Entebbe International Airport will contribute to the Uganda’s national economy, Vianney Luggya of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority said.
Mr. Luggya said Entebbe’s 1.85 million annual passengers could rise to match the 7 million experienced by Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya.
“This is largely attributed to the fact that they have a national airline,” he said.
“Airports like Jomo Kenyatta International Airport earn a lot of foreign exchange from transit passengers.”
Uganda Airlines flew to eight destinations and had a fleet of 15 aircraft at the time of its closure in 2001 when a more than a decade of financial difficulties resulted in its liquidation.
In the same year, an attempt to resurrect the government-owned airline through a private sector initiative was made. But the operation did not last long as a result of limited capital.
To compete with big regional players like Ethiopia Airlines and Kenya Airlines, the re-launched Uganda Airlines is running promotional fares that will run for two months.
Nairobi and Mombasa return tickets cost $278 and $325 respectively. Return tickets to Mogadishu, Somalia, and Juba, South Sudan, cost $590 and $225 respectively.
“Passengers have the choice of paying their ticket fares in US dollars or Uganda shillings,” said Bamuturaki.
Experts speak out
The airline management has been urged to keep emotions and politics out of the running of Uganda Airlines if the national carrier is to operate efficiently and profitably.
Dr Fredrick Muhumuza, an economist, says the national carrier should concentrate on operating as a commercial entity instead of being a burden to the taxpayer.
“We need to get emotions out of the airline business. The celebration of the maiden flight shouldn’t turn out to be a burden to our budget, it is already stretched. I’m still seeing politics as opposed to business in Uganda airlines. Let the politics live to benefit from the dividends. The pricing should be based on economic terms,” Dr. Muhumuza says.
Social media Bashing
The Airlines came under fire for banning the taking of in-flight pictures after viral photos, showing handwritten air tickets issued to fliers as the operator made a maiden flight to Kenya.
According to reports onboard Bombardier CRJ–900, journalists who traveled to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for an inaugural flight to Kenya have been banned from taking photos after ” shaming us.”
An Observer journalist Nicholas Bamulanzeki posted one of the pictures, which led to the airline being widely mocked online.
The photo by Bamulanzeki and The observer was uploaded with the caption: “Uganda Airlines inaugural flight”
The post has seen the airline being ridiculed for issuing handwritten tickets in “this generation.”
As that wasn’t enough, the new operator in the market has also been castigated by Daily Monitor Public Editor Odoobo Charles Bichachi “for serving Katogo in-flight” — saying it not a cultural event.
Mr. Bichaachi said that he drew to the notice that the airline will be serving Katogo on board — telling off airline management to drop this “sentimentalism and not attempt to mix cultural cuisine with best practices.”
“Katogo! Why do they think Ethiopian Airways does not serve Injera on its flights, or Kenya Airways does not serve Ugali na nyama choma?” he wondered saying that not every food you fancy can be served on a plane.
Mr. Bichachi warned that Katogo is heavy and could leave the aircraft’s seat messy.
Besides, he said that many fliers are not heavy eaters and that it is not even advisable to stuff passengers with such heavy eats.
“Those who want Katogo can be directed to Nalongo’s when they land or restaurants at the airport can be encouraged to prepare Katogo which passengers can eat before boarding,” he said.
Mr. Bichachi advised the Airline management to opt for simple things such as Rolex and other light foods.
“As for Rolex, yes that is fine. It is easy, neat, and dry and a passenger need not be served the whole chapati and egg as it can be chopped into pieces,” he said.