Uganda’s ambition to compete in the African aviation sector is starting to take shape with the arrival of two Bombardier CRJ900s received by President Yoweri Museveni at the Entebbe International Airport on Tuesday morning.
The aircraft are Bombardier’s new model planes launched at the Farnborough Air show in the United Kingdom last year, and will be the first to be operated by an African airline.
Mid last year, President Museveni told Members of Parliament in an address, “The Government will revive the Uganda Airlines. We have already booked slots for the manufacture of medium and long– distance planes”. He said it was to support the services sector of the economy.
Uganda Airlines could serve as panacea to aid trade in services including the country’s tourism sector which grew by almost 60 percent in terms of visitors between 2016 and 2018, most of whom are from countries around Africa. The country is looking to attract a million more this year, a target that could be aided by the continent’s free trade agreement looming into effect.
The airline which was established in May 1976 and started operations in 1977 liquidated in 2001 after failed attempts by the Ugandan government to privatise the company, with all potential bidders at a time pulling out.
But with the government’s commitment to its resurgence, Uganda Airlines would have to compete with regional giants Ethiopian Airlines, Kenya Airways and South African Airways, as it plans to reach destinations in Southern, Central and East Africa. It has so far, secured 47 bilateral air services agreements with other countries.
Despite taking delivery of two Bombardier airplanes, Uganda Airlines is yet to obtain an Air Operator Certificate — which could take another 90 days — a process that is mandatory to ascertain the viability of the airlines’ systems, personnel and infrastructure required, including demonstration flights with the airplanes to neighbouring countries to measure operational efficiency and quality.
The airplanes are two of six the airline is expecting before the end of 2020. Two more CRJ900s are expected from Bombardier between July and September, and two A330-800s from Airbus by December 2020. The timely delivery of these is heavily dependent on the government’s ability to meet financial obligations with the manufacturers. But President Museveni has insisted that the government will not borrow to pay for aircraft. He disclosed that cash was paid for the two already acquired “and we shall do the same for those that are being manufactured”.
Faced with challenges securing funds from external sources, the airline has had to fund the purchase of the latest planes with government funds. In March, the Minister of State for planning, David Bahati wrote to parliament requesting for $75.6 million to pay installments due to Bombardier and Airbus.
The financing challenges along with reported issues between the interim Board and implementation team – on recruitment decisions – have caused a number of delays in achieving set targets. The first CRJ900 was initially scheduled to arrive in January with subsequent delivery of the remaining initially expected in February through to April.
State-owned airlines in Africa struggle terribly with inefficiency and profitability mostly due to management problems, Ethiopian airlines the obvious and worthy exception.