Uganda Airlines: The Dream
I have for a number of editions followed proceedings in airshows like Paris and Fanborough, they are a trade fair for the aviation world to showcase their new technology and close business deals. My dream to be a pilot never materialized but I’ve remained fascinated by the complex world of aviation, I can now say I am an expert though by love for the industry. Well, last week at the biennial Fanborough airshow, Ephraim Bagyenda, CEO of the revived Uganda Airlines signed MOUs with Airbus for the supply of two Airbus A330neo aircraft’s, and four Bombardier CRJ900s from the Canadian firm Bombardier Aerospace.
According to Wikipedia.org, the Airbus A330neo (“neo” for “New Engine Option”), is a wide-body jet airliner currently under development by Airbus from the Airbus A330 (now A330ceo – “Current Engine Option”). Developed with modern engines comparable to those developed for the Boeing 787 after suggestions by owners of the current A330. A unit costs U.S. $259.9 M. They are expected to go into operation by September 2018. The Bombardier CRJ900 is a regional jet airliner manufactured by Bombardier Aerospace of Canada, and a unit costs approximately USD 46 Million.
As a patriotic Ugandan, I am excitedly waiting for the tail fin graphics that shall grace these aircraft, hopeful that a very bright vibrant design that stands out wherever the plan flies to shall be chosen. See, having a national airline is a source of national pride. The aeroplanes are like giant billboards advertising the brand that a country is to the rest of the world. In a time where branding is very important, a national carrier achieves mileage. The tourism sector also hopes to benefit, that’s if Uganda Airlines works in tandem with Uganda Tourism Board to give tourists special attractive packages. Similarly, exports and trade shall also benefit, especially if the Middle East route is added to Air Uganda’s destinations. Thousands of Ugandans frequent the middle east to work and trade. These lucrative routes are dominated by foreign firms, with Ugandan losing hundreds of Millions of Dollars worth of business that would have been handled by a national carrier to these firms.
However, it is not a walk in the park to run a successful aviation business. Running an airline is a complex affair and a very competitive one, sometimes with very narrow profit margins. It requires a huge amount of cash in initial capital investment in purchasing aircraft’s and handling infrastructure. For a struggling economy like Uganda’s, one wonders whether a National airline is a priority while other more important sectors like health and education are frail. The tax payer is going to shoulder the burden of paying for an airline that may never break-even.
Uganda Airlines faces the threat of corruption that has become synonymous with any and every government project, that involves a huge amount of cash. The evils have already surfaced with Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB), coming out to confirm that the Uganda Airlines Patents were secured by a private person/organization. It won’t be a surprise if more scandals of all shady deals surface in the future.
The aviation business is very competitive, and the government shall have to put in place measures to protect Uganda Airlines from competition by more experienced neighborhood players like Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and Rwandair while maintaining civility with their home countries and from international giants like Emirates who enjoy economies of scale. The airline shall have to be free from any political interference if it is to survive.
If you asked me from a layman’s point of view, I’d rather Uganda Airlines starts with domestic flights, to the network of airstrips all over the country. Uganda has 26 airstrips spread out in the country, and all of which are in operational condition. Small aircraft be purchased to serve these routes and also equip the Soroti Flying School to train more pilots, traffic controllers and other technical personnel. Domestic aviation is dominated by private players who charge exorbitant fees. A return ticket from Entebbe to Kidepo in North Eastern Uganda, is USD 670, the same money can take you to a number of destinations to Europe and Asia! With the entry of Uganda Airlines into this sector, the ticket prices shall be reduced drastically, international and domestic tourism shall be on a high, since most of the destinations are in areas with tourists attractions, human resources shall be equipped and developed gradually to handle larger operations. A sustainable business strategy would be developed and with time and experience, Uganda Airlines would spread out to regional and intercontinental destinations.