An Inside Look At Uganda's Airlines

Airports & Airlines
Nick Cummins
min read
September 25, 2020

​While Uganda's unique geographical position and government support have made it perfect for airports, it is less fortunate when it comes to airlines. With plentiful competition in the region, and more developed surrounding nations accommodating larger aircraft fleets, can this country thrive as an equal? Let's explore.

How many Airlines are there in Uganda?

As of September 2020, there are fifteen airlines registered in Uganda; only six are registered with ICAO and only two with IATA. Of these airlines, only three currently operate scheduled services: Uganda Airlines, AeroLink Uganda, and Eagle Air. There have been several other scheduled carriers that have gone bankrupt (or in some capacity withdrawn from the market) in Uganda:

  • Air Uganda -  Suspended in 2014, not due to money, but because the Uganda aviation authority withdrew its license. This was because IATA failed UCAA and canceled any licenses that it had issued, and thus without the ability to fly internationally, the airline folded.
  • Alliance Air - A joint venture between South African Airways (SAA) and the governments of Tanzania and Uganda. It operated a Boeing 747SP. It folded in 2000 when the partners left the airline, and SAA was forced to decide whether or not to keep it operating.
  • East African Airlines - Originally the national airline of Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda (much like SAS is in Scandinavia), it went into liquidation after acclimating half a billion dollars debt in 1977. All three countries would create national airlines in that same year, which was also a cause of conflict.
  • Uganda FUL - Fly540's subsidiary airline certificate in Uganda, now withdrawn from the market apart from routes from Kenya to the capital of Uganda.
  • Uganda Airlines (1976) - the original government flag carrier that went bankrupt in 2001. It is succeeded by the new Uganda Airlines.
  • United Airlines Uganda - A small domestic carrier that went out of business due to market conditions.
  • Victoria International Airlines - In 2007, this start-up airline shut down only two months after starting, claiming problems and poor performance of its distribution system.

Uganda Airlines is the state carrier of the nation, that only began in 2019 after the government decided that having a national carrier was needed. They have ambitious plans to expand their route network throughout the region, and link flights to major hubs across the world. So far, they have acquired a fleet of four Bombardier CRJ900ER, each carrying 76 passengers. These aircraft are not currently running scheduled operations, but reserved for special COVID-19 flights until the crisis is over. However, before the crisis, they ran seven different routes to six other countries, up and down the coast of East Africa.

"They were brought back online a few months ago when the demand for charter and repatriation flights started. Currently, we are flying the aircraft on these special flights and are waiting for scheduled flights to commence." Chief Executive Officer Cornwell Muleya told CH-Aviation.

Uganda Airlines has placed an order for two of the very rare Airbus A330-800 widebody aircraft, which it will use to fly long-haul routes across the continent and towards European destinations.

"The plan is for the airline to extend the route network from its current regional focus within Africa and connect Uganda to overseas long-haul destinations. Two A330-800N aircraft have been ordered and will be delivered to the airline in December 2020, and long-haul flights will start in 2021," said Cornwell Muleya in the same interview.

With the capacity of these long-range aircraft, Uganda Airlines will suddenly have a much more robust presence in the aviation sphere and tap into the lucrative revenue to its home hub airport of Entebbe International Airport. Effectively Uganda doesn't have a long-haul operation outside of this carrier, and thus, the marketplace is a monopoly waiting to happen. Local investors are reluctant to move into the region, and with the history of failed scheduled carriers fresh in their memory, it may stay that way for some time. Without a local carrier to innovate and compete with a state one, some have said that the government will be slow-moving to offer connections, premium service, and defend against neighboring airlines.

There are, however, two other airlines in the country that are worth taking note of.

Introducing Aerolink Uganda and Eagle Air

Aerolink Uganda is a private carrier that operates scheduled services throughout Uganda's National Parks, focusing on the lucrative tourist safari market. However, despite the need typically catered to by private charter operators, Aerolink has seen room for regularly scheduled services, flying throughout Uganda and even into Northern Kenya with its fleet of four Cessna 208 Caravan (each can hold 12 passengers).

To say that Aerolink's connections are not extensive is a disservice, with links through Air Kenya and Regional Air connecting a vast network of tourist destinations. Potential safari visitors who want to see as much as possible (such as the coastline of Tanzania, the lion plains of Kenya, and the gorilla mountain retreats of Uganda) can easily connect through Aerolink and partners without much hassle at all. This creates a vast network of destinations that allow Aerolink to sustain well beyond the geographical constraints of the country. One only has to imagine what would happen if they decided to move into the market of regional trunk routes.

Routes around East Arica

Eagle Air, the third scheduled carrier in Uganda, is the biggest airline with seven aircraft and actually the only one to operate two hub airports in Uganda (in Entebbe and Arua). The airline focuses on scheduled domestic routes across the country, and also some national parks like Aerolink. Plus, they also fly into South Sudan from Arua on the border and provide an essential link for commerce operations in that remote part of the world. Its fleet consists of three Let L-410 Turbolets, and one of each of the following: Beechcraft 1900, Piper PA-34 Seneca, and Cessna 206.

Eagle Air
The route map of Eagle Air

Is there room for another carrier to enter the market?

There are also many charter carriers and cargo companies operating in the region, supplying regional travel and allowing passengers to choose their own routes between different parks and major cities. One large airline is called Air Serv limited. This aviation company offers air charter services to the countries of the African Great Lakes, as well as aircraft maintenance and repairs, and humanitarian cargo deliveries in the region. An essential stop-gap for the area. Its charity side of the business provides affordable air travel for those in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan to Uganda - for medical, education, and humanitarian reasons.

These example airlines do raise the question of whether or not there is room for another carrier to enter the mix. Even a smaller one could offer regularly scheduled services between Uganda and its neighbours to the south; Kenya, and Rwanda (the same business model as Eagle Air). If the government can afford two widebody aircraft to boost international connectivity, a smaller carrier could piggyback off the influx of travelers and slide into the market, offering low-cost alternatives.

"Tourists keen to sample what Uganda and Kenya have to offer will enjoy a quick and direct flight. We are committed to ensuring that these efforts will translate into success so that the Crane (Uganda airlines) keeps in the skies,”  said Ahabwa Godfrey, Chairman of Uganda Airlines Board.

Plus, with the construction of the new and second international airport in the country underway, opportunities for a domestic link (no matter how small, perhaps with simple turboprops) could open the door to a steady income stream.

If you are an airline or aviation film interested in Uganda, or one existing needing an international aviation services partner, then contact Eways Aviation today. With background knowledge, worldwide connections, and 24/7 instant support, we stand ready to handle any situation, big or small.

Nick Cummins
Copywriter - Aviation Journalist
Journalist - Working in news media for over a decade with outlets including 9News and the Discovery Channel, Nick is an airline marketing specialist with a Masters level education. Working closely with AirAsia, Virgin Australia, Turkish Airlines and others, Nick provides unique insight and analysis on a variety of aviation topics. Based in Sydney, Australia.

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