Ugandans were treated to the sight of two Bombardier CRJ900 jets that touched down at the Entebbe International Airport on Tuesday morning, in the latest step taken towards the revival of the national airline.
President Yoweri Museveni’s government believes that restarting the national carrier will help Uganda take a slice of the region’s growing aviation business and also invigorate the service sector of the economy.
Kenya Airways, South Africa Airways and Ethiopian Airlines currently dominate the country’s air travel business.
Ugandans will be spending money but spending it on our airline.
Journey to Entebbe
Last year, Uganda ordered for four CRJ900 planes from Canadian aircraft manufacturer Bombardier, as part of the plan to revive Uganda Airlines.
Two of the planes were flown out of Montreal on Friday and passed through northern Canada, to Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, before making their way to Maastricht in the Southeastern Netherlands. They would then connect to Cairo, Egypt from where they headed straight to Entebbe.
At Entebbe, the planes circled around the airport, and were water cannoned before being officially received by president Museveni.
Initial plans are to eventually acquire six planes. Uganda Airlines is expected to commence commercial flights in July, Works and Transport Minister Monica Azuba Ntege said at the function.
It will start with flights to regional capitals but eventually plans to launch direct long-haul routes to China and other Asian countries, whose tourists Uganda is keen to attract.
About the CRJ900 plane
Uganda Airlines will become the first carrier to operate the new CRJ-series atmosphere cabin in Africa.
Atmosphere cabin design allows passengers to carry and store an “oversized” roller bag within the aircraft cabin bins, which minimizes the need to check bags at the counter or the gate.
According to the manufacturer, the new model atmosphere cabin sets new standards of passenger experience in the regional jet market segment.
Key features of the new interior comprise of larger passenger living space, wheel-first roller bag capability, more spacious lavatory, increased cabin connectivity options, all integrated into a contemporary design and material choices.
Uganda paid Shillings 280 billion ($74,885,202) for the first two planes, and will operate the CRJ900 in dual-class configuration with 76 economy seats and 12 first class seats.
Founded by Uganda’s former dictator Idi Amin in 1976, Uganda Airlines was liquidated in the 1990s by Museveni’s government under a broader program to privatize troubled state firms and open up the economy to private enterprise.
The country is keen to expand its aviation industry, especially as it prepares to start pumping crude oil from fields in its west, a development expected drive up business traveler arrivals.
A new international airport, financed partly with UK credit, is being built near the fields, primarily to service the oil industry.
Once completed it will be the country’s second international airport after Entebbe, south of the capital Kampala, which is also being expanded with a loan from China to handle more passengers and cargo.
Good for Ugandan travelers
Museveni said the domestic airline would also soak up a chunk of the estimated $400 million he said Ugandans spend on international travel annually, keeping it in the economy.
“By starting an airline we are going to reduce on the foreign exchange expenditure. Ugandans will be spending money but spending it on our airline,” he said.
Ugandan travellers have long complained about high ticket costs they say stem from limited competition.
Ramathan Ggoobi, an economics lecturer at a university in Kampala told Reuters the revival of the airline will boost competition and likely lower costs for Ugandan travellers.
“Even if they are returning zero profit the economic benefits will be quite high,” he said, referring to the re-launched carrier.