Uganda Airlines has pushed its expansion plans to the end of the year, citing Covid-19 travel restrictions on its intended destinations.
The airline, which flies regional routes such as Kinshasa, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Juba, Mogadishu and Kilimanjaro, was set to start long haul trips by July from its hub at Entebbe to Europe, India, China and the Middle East, but these have now been pushed to September and December.
The country is undergoing a vicious second wave of the virus and already two countries — the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom - to which its national carrier intended to fly this year, have slapped bans on direct flights from the country. The airline had earlier targeted four destinations - Mumbai, London, Dubai, and Guangzhou.
Airline officials told The EastAfrican that the airline could not fly to Dubai as earlier scheduled in the first week of July because Uganda is among the countries on UAE’s red list. Flights to Dubai have been moved to September.
Direct flights to Heathrow London, a route to which the airline has been allocated five flights a week, will commence in December following a review of the UK red list. The airline’s entry will offer the only non-stop connection to the UK from the country, a market that is indirectly served by at least nine of the international airlines operating in Entebbe.
Mumbai, scheduled for November, is waiting for the Uganda government to lift a ban on direct flights between Entebbe and India. An official of the national carrier, who declined to be named, told The EastAfrican that for Guangzhou, both Uganda and China are still in talks to sign bilateral air agreements that allow the airline to land in China. Uganda has signed bilateral air service agreements with about 47 countries around the world.
Uganda Airlines is currently running a four-craft fleet of bombardier CRJ900 aircrafts. Recently, the airline added two new Airbus A330-800 aircraft to its fleet, which completed the first phase of its revival and it is these new additions that will ply the long haul routes. However, a delay in the issuance of an air operating licence to these two aircraft by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has kept them grounded.
Sources say the airline was at the last stage of a five-phase certification process after which an AOC will be issued if it is successfully completed.
Works and Transport Minister Edward Katumba Wamala said he has not been briefed on the process of the air operating licence. Uganda Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson, Vianney Luggya also declined to say more on the process.
Uganda Airlines recorded Ush102 billlion ($79 million) in losses in the 2019/20 financial year up from Ush15 billion ($4.2 million) the previous financial year according to a report by the Auditor General.
The same report exposed systematic corruption and mismanagement within the 2-year-old airline which saw some top executives including CEO Mr Cornwell Muleya suspended pending investigations. Currently operating majorly in the already crowded East African sky, the airline is looking at alternative sources generating income among which is signing interline agreements with already established players and offering handling services.