Kenya Airways faces a stiff challenge in the East African airspace as Uganda moves to revive its national carrier just a few months to the arrival of high-capacity planes ordered by RwandAir.
Uganda has announced plans to revive its airline in a move that could end KQ’s dominance.
President Yoweri Museveni has directed the Cabinet to conclude discussions with investors to start a national airline as a matter of urgency, reports the Daily Monitor.
“Ugandan travellers are suffering because of, apparently, not having a national airline. I thought that our brothers in Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa would serve all of us. That, however, is apparently not the case,” the Daily Monitor quotes Mr Museveni as having said.
That plan comes at a time when Lufthansa airline said early this month that it would deploy a larger aircraft — Airbus A340-300 between Frankfurt and Nairobi — four times a week beginning September this year, up from the current three.
Lufthansa, one of Europe’s biggest airlines, resumed direct passenger flights to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) from late October 2015 after an 18-year absence from the Kenyan capital.
Last year, Rwanda’s national carrier, RwandAir, signed a contract with European plane maker Airbus for the purchase of two A330 aircraft, becoming the only country in East Africa to operate such an aircraft.
The two aircraft will feature a three-class cabin layouts. The A330-200 will have 244 seats (20 business class, 21 premium and 203 economy class) and the A330-300 will have 274 seats (30 business class, 21 premium and 223 economy class).
Fastjet started operations in Kenya after the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) gave it a green light for Nairobi-Dare-salaam route.
An aviation expert, however, says that it will be challenging for RwandAir to fill the larger aircraft since this requires a partnership with other airlines.
“Things might not be that smooth unless RwandAir forms a network with other airlines to enable them fill a larger aircraft,” said the expert who did not wish to be identified.
Rwanda in December signed a pact with Uganda and South Sudan to establish a legal framework for negotiations that would see local airlines attaining fifth freedom rights along Juba-Nairobi, Nairobi-Juba routes.
In aviation, fifth freedom rights mean an airline is allowed to carry passengers from one country to another and from that place to a third nation.
KQ has been capitalising on the absence of national carriers in some of the Eastern and Southern African countries such as Uganda, Burundi, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi to grow its revenues.
The Kenyan national carrier, for instance, operates three local destinations in Zambia, a move that has not gone well with the domestic airlines in that country, which has previously accused KQ of dropping and picking up passengers, denying them the numbers.
Kenya Airways operate in Ndola, Livingstone and the capital Lusaka in this southern African landlocked State.
The Comesa Competition Authority has, however, argued that the move by KQ is in order since Zambia has no national carrier.
“We must look at the benefits that KQ adds in local routes and weigh the options,” said George Lipimile, the CCA executive officer.
Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways have been working on fleet expansion that would see them better their services and become regional leaders.
The airlines have been replacing older aircraft with more fuel-efficient planes, mainly the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner.