Uganda Airlines set for Dubai flights next month
Uganda Airlines is pressing on with plans to launch intercontinental services, even as it grapples with Covid-19 induced disruptions to the industry.
Launch of medium and long-haul flights has become all the more urgent as the airline prepares to receive its second widebody aircraft, an A330-800neo next week. That will bring to six the number of aircraft in its fleet with the two A330’s adding 522 seats in nominal capacity.
Ticket sales for Dubai and Johannesburg are set to open in February with launch of operations expected soon after, says the carrier’s commercial director Mr. Roger Wamara.
“It is a challenging environment alright, but it is imperative that we get in and hang in there, as we wait for better times,” Wamara said of the decision to launch the Dubai and Johannesburg services in the present circumstances.
Dubai has replaced London as the first intercontinental service because of the twin impacts on the market and regulatory processes, of a second wave of Covid-19 in Europe. More than sixty countries have banned travel to the UK following the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant there, making the launch of a new service from Uganda unviable for now.
Uganda Airlines has applied for rights to London Heathrow but Wamara says the disruptions have also affected the regulatory process. That means it will take longer to secure the necessary approvals for operating flights into the United Kingdom.
Pandemic effects have similarly affected plans for services to India, China and South Africa. Mumbai, initially planned for March, will now likely launch mid-year while barring a change of circumstances for the better, Guangzhou has now been moved to the last quarter of the year.
Johannesburg was supposed to start last December but was also postponed to February in light of the pandemic effects there. The flight will be interlinked with Lusaka.
The six-and half-month lockdown of Ugandan airspace last March, curtailed Uganda Airlines growth trajectory. The carrier had planned to close 2020 with twenty destinations but had managed only half that number by December.
A thrice weekly service to Kinshasa was launched mid-December was the tenth addition to the network. Wamara says the route is performing better than expected and the airline is now considering adding Goma and Lubumbashi to the network.
“Kinshasa is picking up and so far, is performing above our initial projections. We are now looking at adding other points within the DRC,” Wamara said.
The airline is also negotiating cabotage rights between Lumbumbashi, Kinshasa and Goma. Such rights would allow Uganda Airlines to pick domestic traffic between those points in the DRC. The carrier also wants to apply for those rights in Kenya so that some of its flights to Mombasa can have an intermediate stop in Nairobi.
Commenting on the plans to launch long haul services at the present environment, analysts said it might be the better of two difficult choices.
“Parking a brand-new aircraft is a cost on its own. On the other hand, launching a new type into service not only allows to circumvent some of those costs but also has the benefit of the crew gaining crucial operational experience on the type without undue pressure from the market,” said a commentator who preferred anonymity.
“Launching those flights now might be cash neutral because the airline was not expected to make money on those flights in the short run. So, you would rather extract the other benefits of operating the aircraft now, than losing all out,” said another industry expert.