Uganda grapples with Airbus A330 deliveriesUganda Airlines will operate a mix of A330neo’s for the long haul network and shorter range Bombardier CRJ’s for the regional feeder network
Uganda Airlines is weighing options for the delivery of its A330 fleet, in the wake of disruptions to global air travel, occasioned by the COVID-19 crisis. The flag carrier had brought forward the delivery of its A330-800 neo fleet to October, instead of the original plan under which the first airframe was to be delivered in December 2020.
Under the revised schedule, the second aircraft would follow in November in time for launch of the first intercontinental route in December 2020.
According to usually reliable sources, the airline is now weighing the cost implications of deferring the deliveries and parking the fleet at Entebbe International Airport. While it would be cheaper than leaving them with the manufacturer, it is understood that the airline management is conscious of the negative comments that followed the five months hiatus between the arrival of the first Bombardier CRJ 900 NextGen in April 2019 and the first commercial flight in October that year.
Sources add further that the airline is not facing any financial pressures, having received all the money needed for this phase of its development plan. Payments for the widebody fleet are up to date with a final payment of just $17 million pending for the two aircraft.
The COVID-19 crisis has impacted global air travel as countries shut their airspace and impose internal lockdowns. Uganda airlines which needs a minimum of 17 routes for the current fleet of four CRJ-900 aircraft to be optimally utilised, was planning to launch another nine routes between March and October, to complete phase one development. These included Kinshasa and Johannesburg in April followed by Lusaka, Harare and Goma. Lagos and either London or Guangzhou, would follow to launch the second phase, once the A330’s arrived. It also is understood that Uganda is trying to secure rights to Heathrow for the London flights. Should the sought slots be allocated, Uganda Airlines would be the other carrier in East Africa, after Kenya Airways, to offer direct flights to London Heathrow.
A source close to the airline says the carrier has become well-resourced after President Museveni made it clear to reluctant ministry of finance technocrats, that he would not entertain any financial hurdles in the way of the comeback flag carrier. It is reported that in one meeting last year, Museveni told officials to put his Gulfstream GV presidential transport on the market, if they could not find money for the national carrier within the budget.
The only problem for the airline management now is the uncertainty surrounding the market, since it is not known when the COVID-19 crisis will ease and travel restrictions lifted. Even then, it would be a while before traffic and the global economy recover to precrisis levels. The process of securing flight approvals and recruitment of representatives in the different markets has also been impacted as a result.
Uganda Airlines is the second operator in East Africa to have ordered Airbus’s revamped A330 twinjet. Rwandair has a pair of the larger -900-neo on order but has not given any reason for putting off the deliveries that were due in 2019.