Opinion: Why the Revived Uganda Airlines Will not Collapse

In 1914, Claude Grahame White observed: “What railways have done for nations, airways will do for the world.” Sixty-two years later, Uganda formed her national carrier – Uganda Airlines. Like many parastatals of the day, it was systematically mismanaged first by Idi Amin and then by Milton Obote.

On 17th October 1988, Uganda Airlines flight 775 a Boeing 707-338C, registration 5X-UBC crashed while attempting to land at Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Sadly 33 of the 52 people aboard lost their lives. The probable cause of the crash was determined to be "The crew's lack of adequate preparation in the procedure for a Non-Precision Approach on runway 34L..." Uganda at the time was a very poor economy. This crash severely strained what meagre resources Uganda Airlines had.

By March 1990, Uganda Airlines had a reduced fleet that included one Boeing 707-320C, two Fokker F27-600s, one Lockheed L-100-30, one Twin Otter and one B-N Trislander. In 1994, desperately trying to keep afloat, a Boeing 737 was leased from Air Zimbabwe to serve Bujumbura and Kigali as well as Tel Aviv. By 1996, the European Union meanwhile was toying with the idea of creating a single Civil Aviation agency. The United Kingdom, France, Germany and even Italy had all enacted stringent conditions for their Airspace. Aircrafts like the Boeing 707 operated by many African countries were banned and with more growing operational challenges, all European routes operated by Uganda Airlines were discontinued in 1998.

To try and save the Airline, government opted to either find a strategic partner who could make critical investment decisions (like newer aircraft, better trained personnel etc.) or sell the entire business. Though there was considerable interest in the Airline, by 1999 only South African Airways bid for a 49% stake in the business. Facing strong legislative (parliamentary) opposition, SAA abandoned this quest. Left with no option, government liquidated Uganda airlines in May 2001. On Tuesday April 23rd 2019, with much fanfare two brand new Bombardier CRJ900NG’s touched down at Entebbe. These are part of a brand-new fleet for the recently revived Uganda Airlines.

In his fifth manifesto for Uganda, president Museveni, on page 263, promised to revive the national carrier. One of the many reasons given was that the airline would leverage Uganda as a premier tourist, conference and business destination in Africa. Entebbe airport continues to grow its traffic. In 2018 it handled 1,840,264 passengers – the vast majority of them being Ugandans travelling mainly to the Far East (China) as well as to Turkey and Dubai for business. Exports through Entebbe were at 40,440 tons. These numbers scream for a National Carrier. Many citizens though continue to ask themselves one major question; ‘If the first airline failed, why will this be any different?’

World over, the CRJ series has revolutionalised regional travel. Its safety record is second to none. Compared to its competitors, it is cheaper and easier to maintain. With the new ATMOSPHÈRE cabin, the CRJ series aircraft continues to be the benchmark for regional aviation. The other aircraft to be included in Uganda Airlines fleet are two Airbus A330neo’s. Incorporating the latest-generation Rolls-Royce Trent 7000 engines, along with aerodynamic improvements – including new composite Sharklet wingtip devices – as well as increased lift and reduced drag, the A330neo is a more efficient aircraft that will generate savings through reduced fuel burn. This aircraft, which typically seats 287people and has a 13,334km range is ideal for long haul flights. On the side of personnel, the Managing Director of Uganda Airlines Eng. Ephraim Kalyebara Bagenda is an aeronautical engineer with over 20 years of experience in the Airline Industry. Eng. Bagenda for 6 years helped grow RwandAir from a tiny state enterprise into a genuine African Brand.

The board of directors is headed by Capt. Gad Gasatuura – a retired flight Captain of International repute and successful businessman. With their guidance, Uganda Airlines has recruited very competent pilots, first officers and flight engineers. This intelligent mix of aircraft and personnel to me presents a matrix of opportunity for Uganda. An opportunity to strategically grow brand Uganda as a premier tourist, business and conference hub on the continent. It presents an opportunity to continuously grow the competence of our human resource in modern aeronautics. It also shows that management is aware of the unique challenges faced in the Airline business. Uganda is on a forward march to becoming a nation of Strivers and not Scroungers. Let’s fly the Crane.

The writer is a Communications Assistant at Government Citizen Interaction Centre (GCIC), Ministry of ICT and National Guidance.