No Wahala: Uganda Airlines bids for a slice of Africa-Asia connector market with Lagos and Mumbai flights
Flag carrier Uganda Airlines has taken the first baby-steps towards joining the competitive Asia-Africa connector market, currently dominated by rivals from the Arabian gulf and pan-African behemoth Ethiopian. Over the past fortnight, the carrier has made back-to-back announcements of new services, that will give it the first foothold in Asia and West Africa.
On September 18, much to the delight of the 35,000 strong resident Indian community, the airline announced a service to Mumbai starting October 7. A week later on September 25, a service to Lagos was unveiled to a section of the 10,000 Nigerians resident in Uganda. UR 900 from Entebbe to Lagos will commence on October 19.
Mumbai will be the four-year old carrier’s second international route and 12th destination, while Lagos will be the thirteenth destination and 11th intra-African route for Uganda airlines.
Both services will operate three times a week, using the carriers juvenile A330-800 configured to 258 seats in a three-cabin layout. Toying with the tagline “Dinner in Entebbe and Breakfast in Mumbai,” the flights have been positioned to maximise utility out of the usually dead hours between 17.00 hours in Uganda and dawn at the destination.
The outbound UR430 will depart Entebbe every Monday and Wednesday at 20:25 local time, arriving in Mumbai at 6:05 local. The Saturday departure will be earlier at 17.30 local, arriving in Mumbai at 2:30am on Sunday.
The return UR431 service will depart Mumbai at 8:05am on Tuesdays and Thursdays for a late afternoon arrival in Entebbe the same day. There will be a slight adjustment on Sundays when the inbound service will depart Mumbai earlier at 3:10 am local, arriving in Entebbe five and half hours later at 5:10am local time.
“I am delighted about the opening of Mumbai because it is not only our second international route, but also because of its significance to bilateral relations, trade, tourism, and culture,” chief executive Jenifer Bamuturaki said during a prelaunch breakfast at which captains of Indian business in Uganda were hosted.
The two new services have been scheduled to offer a degree of interconnectivity. UR 900 to Lagos will receive feed from UR 431 on Thursdays and Sundays, while UR 901 will feed into UR 430 on Mondays. The cross-feed works for traders who typically spend 5-6 days at destination, concluding their purchases.
In rhyme with “No Wahala,” the tagline for the Nigerian service which means “No stress”, the new services slash anywhere between six and 12 hours off overall travel times in either direction out of Entebbe.
Adedayo Olawuyi, Uganda Airlines chief commercial officer says shorter journey times should translate into not just reduced travel times but money savings since passengers will avoid unnecessary expenditure during extended layovers in transit hubs.
India and Nigeria offer contrasting opportunities for Uganda Airlines. Indians form the backbone of Uganda’s economy, are mostly middle-class and maintain regular contacts with the motherland, which can generate significant traffic. There is high potential for business and visiting friends and family traffic between India and Uganda.
On the other hand, although only 10,000 are in residence, Nigerians are itinerant in nature, as observed by Ismail A. Alatise, Nigeria’s High Commissioner designate to Uganda.
“It is only where a flight cannot reach that a Nigerian will not go,” he said.
They therefore tend to make more frequent trips and can be relied on to keep the cabin occupied.
Bamuturaki said because connectivity between east and west Africa was still a big challenge “we are happy to increase the options for travel between east and west Africa and beyond through our hub in Entebbe.”
Intra-African connectivity in notoriously poor, with only Ethiopian offering omnidirectional flights around the continent. The Addis based carrier flies to 63 destinations within Africa and is angling for more.
Until Ethiopian ramped up its mainline passenger fleet to 89 jets – 60 long-haul jets and 29 mid-range aircraft, which allowed it to spread its footprint across Asia, Gulf carriers dominated the Africa-Asia connector market. They have now been supplanted by Ethiopian which now also connects Africa to the United States, Canada and Brazil.
Uganda Airlines might be a latecomer, but will soon be blazing its own trail into Asia with the service to Mumbai and later Guangzhou. Being the only carrier offering a direct service to Lagos and Mumbai out of Entebbe, is likely be a compelling proposition to potential travellers. But with only two long-haul aircraft however, its forays further into the region will be self-limiting, until it makes some critical fleet decisions.