Uganda Airlines celebrated its first anniversary of the resumption of commercial flights after nearly 17 years of absence, the low key event took place at Entebbe International Airport ,
With four newly acquired CRJ900 aircrafts from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, the airline hit the skies again on August 28, 2019 with a first commercial flight to Nairobi, Kenya, and later expanded its route network to Juba (South Sudan), Mogadishu (Somalia), Dar-es-Salaam, Kilimanjaro and Zanzibar in Tanzania, Mombasa (Kenya) and Bujumbura in Burundi.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard the aviation industry in March, the airline was in advanced stages of adding Johannesburg (South Africa) and Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo) to its route network. In total, the carrier planned to fly to 20 destinations on the African continent before adding intercontinental flights to London, Dubai, Mumbai and Guangzhou.
The Covid-19 disruptions have, however, affected the airline’s growth plans, and like most carriers, Uganda Airlines is now rethinking its strategy given the uncertainties that hit the sector.
“The projections when we were starting were that we will break even in seven years, but that was before Covid-19… the aviation industry has changed, passenger projection has gone down, the people that were travelling last year are not going to be travelling next year,” said Roger Wamala, the airline’s commercial director.
The anticipated fall in passenger traffic is as a result of technological innovations like e-meetings facilitated by applications such as Zoom, which became popular during the Covid-19 lockdown.
“Technology has changed the need for people to travel from place to place for meetings,” Wamala said, but expressed optimism that this may not affect Uganda Airlines much since most of its travellers are traders and tourists.
And while its regional competitors have resumed operations, it is still not clear as to when Uganda Airlines will resume operations since Entebbe International Airport is closed to commercial flights. The earliest time operations are expected to commence is November when the ongoing expansion works at Entebbe are expected to be complete.
Meanwhile, the airline is in its advanced stages of recruitment of crews for its two A330-800neo aircraft from Airbus. The two A330-800neos currently at the Airbus assembly plant at Toulouse, France, are expected to join the current fleet of four CRJ900 in December.
At least 10 flight captains (pilots) are needed for the two aircraft, 20 first officers (co-pilots) and four sets of 15-per-set cabin crew members in preparation for its planned long-haul routes.
According to Wamala, the airline received applications from some of the collapsing airlines in the Gulf and Europe. Each pilot gets a monthly salary of Shs 42 million while the co-pilots earn Shs 38 million in addition to allowances per hour in flight.
This means that Uganda Airlines’ monthly wage bill for the pilots will increase by at least Shs 1.1 billion once the planes from Airbus arrive.
“The salaries are at per with international standards which explains why we have been able to attract applications from big airlines in the Gulf and Europe but of course first priority is to Ugandans,” Wamala said.