Uganda Airlines resumed commercial flights on Wednesday and by Friday morning, the carrier had moved some 200 passengers in three regional routes.
Air travel experts say the early numbers show good promise for the budding airline.
On Friday morning, the revived national carrier made its inaugural flight to Dar es Salaam after successful trips to Juba, Nairobi and Mogadishu.
Jennifer Bamuturaki, the airline’s business director said they had so far managed to keep all flights on schedule and were optimistic that the numbers will pick up through September.
The airline came under heavy criticism especially on social media after it emerged that the first flight to Nairobi, one of the busiest routes for regional carriers, had only eight revenue passengers.
Of the four routes, Ms Bamuturaki said, Mogadishu registered the highest number of passengers.
The Airline’s inaugural flight to Mogadishu had 40 passengers aboard the 76-seater Bombardier CJ900 and returned with 33 passengers to Kampala.
The Juba flight had 15 passengers.
The airline expects two more aircraft of the same make by the end of September when it plans to add Mombasa, Kilimanjaro and Bujumbura to its destinations.
Kigali is not on the list of destinations but Ms Bamuturaki said it will also be included.
The choice of the four initial routes, she said, was influenced by their viability, market response and availability.
Observers say Kigali is notably missing due to the political spat between Uganda and Rwanda.
Rwanda and Uganda have also previously feuded over fifth freedom rights—which allow an airline to stop in a foreign country and pick up passengers before continuing on to the next destination.
Uganda Airlines has ambitions to expand to Lusaka, Harare, Johannesburg, Accra and India, following acquisition of landing rights and talks which have been ongoing with authorities in these destination since last year.
The airline views South Sudan, DRC and Somalia as its biggest markets as Uganda moves to penetrate the markets of the countries in which it has played a huge geopolitical and economic role, according to a statement by President Yoweri Museveni.
Annually, the president said, Ugandans spend close to $450 million on foreign airlines, adding that Uganda Airlines will be “a cheaper option for Ugandans” and will support the development of the county’s tourism and other sectors like industry, oil and gas.
Uganda Airlines’ revival comes at a time when regional peers are floundering. None of the carriers—Kenya Airways, RwandAir and Air Tanzania—is making money.
“The aviation business is highly competitive in areas of punctuality, consistence and customer service. Uganda Airlines is anxious to set the pace,” said the airline’s board chair Perez Ahabwe.
Experts say ticket costs could drop in the face of added competition.
The airline’s inaugural flight caused a lot of debate on Ugandan social media with many criticising the organisation and the capacity and quality of services on board. Those who took the flight however noted that the experience was good.
The scepticism however was expected according to Ms Bamuturaki because “we have not had a national airline in 20 years” and therefore all the doubts are “understandable.”
The few numbers on the first day also were attributed to uncertainty by travellers and delayed bookings.
Two travel agents said that their bookings for a Wednesday flight had not gone through by Monday last week. The airline’s booking office in Kampala only opened a day to the maiden flight.
“Many Ugandans think that we do not have resources to run the airline but we do. What will matter is our consistency. If we say the flight leaves at 7am, it will leave at 7am and that is how we intend to win the market,” Ms Bamuturaki said.