Passengers boarding the Airbus ahead of Uganda Airlines’ maiden flight to Dubai on October04, 2021
Uganda Airlines on October 04, 2021 officially launched its maiden flight to Dubai in what has been described as a game-changing milestone for the national carrier.
Dubai is the first international route that Uganda Airlines is plying using the newly acquired Airbus state-of-the-art aircraft that was recently included on the Airline’s Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
The inaugural flight to Dubai attracted over 80 passengers, who were visibly excited as they boarded the Airbus A330-800neo.
With capacity to carry 37 tonnes of cargo, Uganda Airlines’ Airbus has been embraced by traders, who mostly export matooke (bananas), oranges, mangoes and pineapple among other items. They mainly import phones and accessories, shoes and clothes from Dubai.
The airline will start with three weekly flights to Dubai, with days and times carefully selected to match travelers’ convenience and connectivity.
The second flight on October 08, 2021 had over 200 passengers onboard. The aircraft also with lots of cargo
Considering the fact that the Dubai route already has giants in the aviation industry such as Fly Emirates and Ethiopian Airlines, concerns have been raised on whether Uganda Airlines will compete on this route and have decent returns.
While there has been skepticism, the inaugural flights indicate that Uganda Airlines Dubai route will be a success.
During the official launch of the Dubai route on October 09, 2021 at Dubai based Occidental Hotel, Jennifer Bamuturaki, the Acting Chief Executive Officer at Uganda Airlines said before launching this route, they listened to customers and carefully came up with competitive packages.
“We looked at what will work for us and what will not work for us,” Bamuturaki said, adding: “With all the COVID restrictions including tests, we didn’t expect to be carrying this number of people. We still see the numbers growing especially as restrictions ease.”
Bamuturaki says the competitive fares and baggage allowance the national carrier is offering in addition to great onboard experience will attract more passengers.
“We are not necessarily cheap but we listened to our customers to give them the best offer. Our rates will give passengers value for their money,” she says, adding that the Airbus also gives travelers a worthwhile experience.
The national carrier will also launch the mileage/loyalty programme in December 2021, she says.
“It’s a friendly miles programme whereby every dollar you spend, you earn miles which can be redeemed for an air ticket or baggage/cargo allowance) which will give customers a totally new experience,” the Uganda Airlines boss says, adding: “It will also include hotels, car rentals wherever we will fly. It will have a lot of things in one; we are making it flexible and interesting for customers.”
She adds that the plan is t make Uganda Airlines a global airline in the long term.
On flying three times to Dubai a week and winning the trust of customers who are loyal to other airlines, Bamuturaki said: “The consistence you give to a route, the consistence you give to an operation will build the trust of the people have tried to get from you.” She said the same concerns were raised when the national carrier was launching the Nairobi route but it has since performed impressively.
Traders ‘Fly the Crane’
Abel Mwesigye, Chief Executive Officer at KACITA-Uganda, an umbrella body of traders, says that traders have already embraced the Dubai route using Uganda Airlines, noting that the maiden flight on October 04, 2021 was largely occupied by traders.
“On the second flight, the plane was full to capacity but 80% of the passengers were traders because of the flexible terms Uganda Airlines has offered our members. These include loyalties, mileage and kilograms,” Mwesigye told Business Focus in an exclusive interview.
He adds that traders are ready to promote the national carrier and therefore, they are ready to forego other airlines and ‘fly the Crane’ to Dubai and other routes.
He says traders have chosen to ‘fly the Crane’ because they will no longer have stop-overs because Uganda Airlines flights between Entebbe and Dubai will be direct unlike some airlines that first stop in their countries.
“Sometimes our cargo gets lost due to stop-overs and language barrier, but with Uganda Airlines, we hope this will be history,” he says, adding: “We hope more routes like Cairo, Turkey, China and many others where we do business will be opened.”
He adds that besides direct flights, traders have “a local feel because the cabin crew is largely made up of Ugandans”.
“The national carrier understands us. Most of us have retained our status, mileage. So that kind of understanding is making the airline unique. The airline is giving us preference. There’s a lot we stand to benefit by ‘flying the Crane’,” Mwesigye says.
Abubakar Mugerwa, a trader who imports phones and accessories from Dubai says he hasn’t travelled in an aircraft that is more comfortable than Uganda Airlines’ Airbus.
“The service onboard is wonderful and fares are friendly. That’s why you see it fully loaded,” Mugerwa says, adding that traders ‘flying the Crane’ are recommending the national airline to fellow traders, the reason the numbers are growing ever since the maiden flight.
Uganda’s exports to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have grown from $300 million since diplomatic relations were established in 2009 to $1.85 billion in 2020. These are mainly comprised of precious minerals, high value crops and labour.
During the same period, investment figures rose from 150 million US Dollars to over 800 million US Dollars while remittances from the UAE currently stand at 200 million US Dollars. Uganda also spends millions of dollars on imports from UAE.
UCCA Commends Uganda Airlines
Vianney Luggya, Manager Corporate Affairs at Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) says the commencement of flights by Uganda Airlines to Dubai is important for the aviation industry in Uganda.
“Much as there were already two operators (Ethiopia and Fly Emirates) on the route, Entebbe-Dubia is one of the most popular destinations for Ugandans and other people living in Uganda where we have a lot of traffic and a lot of potential,” Luggya said in an exclusive interview with Business Focus at the launch of Uganda Airlines route to Dubai on October 09, 2021.
He says that the fact that there are now four operators on the route (Air Arabia launched its flights from Sharjah to Entebbe on Sunday October 11, 2021), there is a lot of room for all these players to build that traffic because potential exists.
“It (Uganda Airlines Dubai route) is a welcome development that is going to help the aviation industry in Uganda to grow traffic. Whenever there are more players plying a route, it helps because each operator grows its own traffic in a different way and continues to promote the country. It is even more important for the national airline that they have direct flights to a popular destination like Dubai. It will also increase on the transit traffic between Entebbe and Dubai which is very important for the industry,” he said.
Asked to comment on Uganda Airlines’ comparative advantage on Dubai route, Luggya said being a national airline, Uganda Airlines has good will of the citizens which is a big bonus.
“It is also a flag bearer for the country, so it is helping the country promote tourism which is very important for the country given the fact that Uganda is a landlocked country. So, the more we open up ourselves to the outside world, the more it benefits the country,” Luggya says.
Commenting on the two years Uganda Airlines has been in business after its re-launch in August 2019, Luggya said it has been a long journey for the national carrier because the two years have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting into delays in launching some of the international flights.
“The Dubai route ought to have been launched earlier but it wasn’t possible due to COVID-19 disruptions. We are glad it has finally happened. There are also other plans that they have to commence other direct flights to other destinations such as London and China among others . Those plans are still in the pipeline and we are hopeful that they will be realized,” Luggya said, adding: “The flight to London is particularly important because it is the other popular destinations for Ugandans and people living in Uganda. There’s a lot of trade between Uganda and the UK. There are also a lot of tourists that leave United Kingdom to Uganda. So, there’s a gap.”
He explains that at the moment, there is no direct flight from Entebbe to London.
“Remember the only direct flight we had was British Airways which exited Uganda’s airspace sometime back , so there’s a vacuum to be filled. So, when Uganda Airlines commences flights to London, it will have bridged that gap,” he says.
According to Luggya, Dubai, London and China are the top three popular destinations for Ugandans and people living in Uganda. He commends Uganda Airlines management for thoughtfully choosing routes on which to ply.