Recently, I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria with RwandAir from Entebbe International Airport through Kigali International Airport. When we left Entebbe, Kenya Airways aircrafts and other airlines dominated the airport. Sadly, not even one visible aircraft among all aircrafts parked belonged to Uganda. Arriving at Kigali International Airport, it was shocking to see a highly modernised busy airport with modern building, amenities and facilities.
However, what was even more surprising and disturbing was being able to see more than seven large Airbus A330-200 80-seater and even bigger A330-300 Airbus 274-seater aircrafts as well as 767 Boeing aircrafts covered with the Rwandan flag being boarded by different passengers flying to different airports within Africa, Johannesburg in South Africa, Europe, Asia and other long-haul flights destinations around the world.
Although by comparison the RwandAir Airbus A330-300 maybe the largest aircraft in East Africa, it is not the largest in the world. The British Airways Airbus A380-800 is known to be one of the world’s largest aircrafts 50-seater, costing approximately $432 million.
Lining up nearby were more than eight CRJ9000 Bombardier aircrafts mainly used for domestic and internal flights.
It is rumored that in 2014, RwandAir and the Eastern & Southern Africa Bank (PTA Bank) signed a financial line of credit, worth $160m (app Shs536b) to support the purchase of the first two airliners.
Since then, RwandAir has managed to successfully acquire other high-level investment aircrafts over the last three years and the airline industry steadily growing in popularity with passengers and tourists.
Uganda seems to be waking up to the reality of losing an extension of high revenue earner tourism market being the airline travel industry. In July 2018, Uganda started re-entry plans back to the lucrative airline business by placing orders with Canadian Jet manufacturers Bombardier Commercial for A339 aircrafts and four CRJ9 Bombardiers 90-seater estimated to cost Shs 700b.
Uganda Airlines Bombardier CRJ900 planned flight destination routes are anticipated to include Nairobi, Kigali, Bujumbura and Juba, among others. The recent interests Uganda has expressed in reviving Uganda airlines almost seem scandalous, no wonder it is only now, after almost 18 years since the collapse of the airline industry that they are making commendable steps.
The irony is that although tourism over the last few years has been Uganda’s highest revenue earner, the NRM government had not realised that avoiding the collapse of Uganda Airlines in 2001 would have long term consequences. Uganda Airlines would have, by now have been the most successful airline in Africa as a natural extension of an equally successful tourism industry.
Instead, the government made a fateful decision to protect a few corrupt individual elite and failed to protect the airline from collapse creating a vacuum for her neighbors to occupy and financially highly benefit over the years. Eighteen years later, there are strong key players dominating the money-spinning niche market with high level return on investments guaranteed.
Therefore, re-entry of Uganda Airlines may not be simple and straight forward without a fight. Some speculators have gone as far as saying that the recent American tourist abduction saga in Uganda’s Queen Elizabeth National park may have been part of a bigger fight to making some tourism destinations risky for tourists as a way of protecting business interests.
According to Kenya Airways CEO Mbuve Ngunze, “The government of Uganda has its own national interests on why it would revive a national airline instead of maybe leveraging other capabilities in the region,”.
For the successful revival of Uganda airlines, the NRM government may have to employ different strategies to survive where regional financial interests are high.