Uganda Airlines is one of Africa’s youngest airline projects having launched operations in late 2019 and only this year being awarded by Ch-aviation with the accolade of “Airline with the youngest fleet in the world”.
Serving a Ugandan market that was on the up in 2019 and an East African aviation landscape that is very competitive, the first few years of the airline were always going to be interesting. However the Covid pandemic has spared no operator and Uganda airlines has itself had to go back to the drawing board and reinvent itself for post covid growth
For the 190th episode of the aviadev insight Africa podcast, the largest and only podcast dedicated to African aviation, host and Aviadev CEO, Jon Howell extended the pleasure of Co-host duties to Airspace Africa CEO and publisher, Derek Nseko for the occasion of a chat to the Ag. CEO of Uganda Airlines, Jenifer Bamuturaki.
Jenifer was kind enough to offer great insights into her background, the Uganda airlines product, new partnerships, fleet and route plans as well as the airline’s position on a liberalized air transport market in Africa. It made for a good conversation.
Jenifer Bamuturaki is a proud product of the hospitality industry and a social worker. She has evolved through her journey, acquiring a combination of experience and skills that she hints are part of what makes her tick. Before joining the Uganda Airlines project, she served Air Uganda, flag carrier of Uganda at the time before it went under. While at Air Uganda, she was in charge of sales and ultimately marketing.
The CEO speaks passionately about the customer journey, a key focus of the Uganda airlines product and emphasizes the importance of customer care, hallmarks of her collective background and experience in hospitality
Along with the rest of the world, “the Uganda Airlines Business plan didn’t anticipate covid”
According to the CEO, if the past 18 months had been business as usual across the industry, the airline would be flying to 18 destinations by the end of 2021 versus the 11 it currently has on its route map. The pandemic and its far-reaching effects have inspired an internal study of how the market has changed, a revision of the entire route network and a realignment of services for a new post covid air transport market that primarily calls for agility and flexibility
One of the unsung heroes of the aviation world under the covid crisis has been air Cargo and its rise to becoming a key part of airline operations and a recognition that in order to survive in the new normal, Cargo can no longer be the underappreciated little sister of passenger air transport. In 2021 Africa’s cargo demand has grown by the double digits for more than 8 consecutive months.
Uganda Airlines is intent on expanding its cargo footprint according Jenifer Bamuturaki
“we want to sign partnerships that are mutually beneficial – fulfilling for us and the customer” the Uganda Airlines CEO says
2021 has been characterized by an unusual growth in partnerships across the board in Africa with Interlines, Codeshares and even JVs making the headlines. Will Uganda Airlines back this trend even going into 2022?
The national carrier has particularly eyed the Gulf region as a key partner with the CEO confirming a relationship with Qatar and Emirates and an approach from fly Dubai. In Africa, negotiations are ongoing and a partnership is on the cards with continental giant, Ethiopian Airlines.
The airline’s IOSA certification is also ongoing, something the CEO describes as a “first step in the bigger picture” which will create greater international credibility and offer a platform for potential entry into an airline alliance in the long-term
Uganda is still cautious in its approach to SAATM. With the political establishment once describing it as potentially lopsided . The state always maintained it wanted to establish a competitive national airline before putting pen to paper.
When asked about SAATM, the Uganda Airlines CEO agreed with its importance however she adds that its implementation is a strategic process and that Uganda’s approach is “step by step”
For now, Uganda is signing multi-designation bilateral air service agreements and is also offering 5th freedom rights on a case by case basis according to the CEO.
Africa is largely a poorly connected continent by air. In 2019, Uganda ranked 14th in Africa by intra-African air connectivity index and received 842,000 passengers from the African continent in the calendar year.
The airline is intent on growing its African network and has earmarked key markets in West Africa such as Lagos, Nigeria and the Southern part of the continent with Lusaka and Harare specifically mentioned by the CEO
In 2022, the airline will launch 5 more routes and plans to increase its frequencies on the South Africa route to 6. The CEO also explained that the CRJ regional network expansion will lead route launches for the Airbus fleet as the airline grows its long haul network
The Uganda Airlines fleet is made up of 4 Mitsubish CRJ-900 aircraft and 2 Airbus A330s. With the airline now flying longer regional routes such as Johannesburg, the CEO remarks that this route in particular has tested the aircraft’s limitations and the airline is looking to up-gauge.
To achieve this, the airline is looking to purchase midrange aircraft in the 120 -150 seat market. This it anticipates will bridge the gap between the CRJs and the A330s. But the CEO also adds that in their search for new aircraft, the airline intends to achieve fleet commonality in order to drive down costs on training and maintenance. On this note, your guess on the next type of aircraft to grace the Uganda airlines fleet is as good as mine.
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