Given the recent history of Uganda’s local air transport industry, the biggest achievement by Air Uganda after four years , has been to able to survive.
“When you start any new venture, you have to prove your worth to the customer. Having seen the way passenger numbers have grown year on year, we have crossed a big hurdle in the Ugandan market,” said the airline’s chief executive, Kyle Haywood.
After spending millions of dollars, the airline is on an even keel, living up to the role of a flag carrier with three aircraft and 39 departures a week out of Entebbe.
Launched on November 15, 2007, Air Uganda last week embarked on a phase of consolidation under new boss Mr Haywood. With 25 years under his belt, Mr Haywood, sees no point in fixing what is already working well.
“My mission is to build on the very solid foundation that they have. The company has done an exceptional job to bring them to four years and they are starting to put down some firm routes as the equivalent national carrier of Uganda,” he says.
With a network that covers all East Africa’s regional capitals as well as some secondary destinations such as Mombasa and Zanzibar, Air Uganda will be looking at what it can add in terms of frequency to the destinations it serves.
The schedule for 2012, which is soon to be announced, will see improved timing on routes such as Dar es Salaam where a daily frequency is on the cards. Kigali, Nairobi and Juba will also see additional frequent flights.
Juba will go double daily with new timings to accommodate morning and evening flights.
This will open up new markets due to the improved connectivity while allowing same day returns for business travellers.
Bujumbura, launched on October 31, is the carrier’s seventh destination. It provides a vital link for business people travelling between the two countries and onward to places such as Juba which has become a hot destination for East African business.
With all the regional capitals connected, Haywood is now looking to the eastern edge of the Central African region for new growth opportunities.
“No specific destination is 100 per cent confirmed other than that we do want to add another destination within the next six months. We are still analysing the commercial potential of various routes to see which one it is; we need to complete further studies on what that may look like,” he said.
Although Uganda has several bilateral air service agreements (Basas) with its neighbours, many of these are not utilised for lack of capacity or a compelling business case.
Air Uganda is now assessing the commercial potential of some of these routes with a particular focus on the Democratic Republic of Congo. Where the carrier flies though will be partly determined by availability of infrastructure to accommodate its all jet fleet.
“That comes down to expansion and better utilisation of our aircraft. We are working with a limited size of fleet at the moment but the key will be to make sure we use those aircraft in a more productive way,” said Mr Haywood.
With an eye on product quality and buoyancy, Air Uganda is evaluating its fleet needs from around 2013-14 but it is still thinking lean. While there will be new acquisitions, nothing larger than 100 seats or smaller than 50 seats is under consideration.
This is because the point to point market from Entebbe to some regional destinations does not justify big aircraft and more frequency would serve customer needs better.
This means Air Uganda’s ambitions remain largely regional over next three years, although Mr Haywood is not ruling out “one or two points that are out of this region.”
“We are looking at what our future fleet and network should look like from 2013-2014 and beyond in order to continue to grow within the region while managing cost structures to ensure the business moves into greater profitability.”
From January 2012, Air Uganda moves into self-handling at Entebbe. It is an object that the airline has achieved after a protracted process and it comes with benefits. Based on the current route structure, this could save the airline upward of $0.7 million a year, and give the carrier full control over the customer experience as all processes will be handled by its own staff.