Uganda Airlines Corporation stopped business after operating for 25 years in 2001
By Titus Kakembo
Political stability and enabling business conditions have triggered an increase in the growth of Uganda’s aviation industry.
This has attracted numerous airlines of international repute to venture into the under exploited market.
It has also made the Government realise that reviving a national airline, 12 years since it was liquidated on grounds of making losses, is important.
“Originally, it was believed that Uganda Airlines was exerting too heavy a burden on the taxpayer. Now, however, new thinking is emerging that airlines generally do not make money. Instead, they greatly support other vital sectors of the economy, such as tourism. For this reason, the Government is thinking of reviving the national carrier,” said the works and transport minister, Abraham Byandala.
He made the remarks during a series of meetings held to draw up mechanisms to coordinate security in air transport in the Africa-Indian Ocean region in Kampala recently.The board chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Zephania Baliddawa, also hailed the plan to re-establish the national airline arguing that it will give trainee pilots an opportunity to complete their education since they are required to do some time in bigger commercial aircraft.
The minister added that the Government purchased four small aircraft to boost Soroti Flying School so that it could serve the Anglo speaking part of Africa.
“Besides the aircraft, the Government has embarked on renovating classrooms, hostels and hiring trainers with the view of trans-forming the school into a centre of excellence for training pilots on the entire African continent.”
The efforts the Government is making were lauded by Raymond Benjamin, the secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), - the global body responsible for setting minimum standards for the civilian aviation industry.
“The restoration of the flying school will go a long way in solving the problem of lack of skilled manpower - which is one of the leading causes of air transport accidents in Africa,” said Benjamin. “There is an urgent need to train more pilots and aircraft engineers because a great number of pilots working today are nearing their retirement age.”
Soroti Flying School acting director Bernard Wandera is postive about the future of aviation.
“As incomes improve, aviation is a means of transport of convenience and time saving,” says Wandera. “Time concious travellers have no option but to fly.”
The school’s engineering instructor Ronald Lodyong says: “The market for pilots, aviation engineers and traffic controllers has never been this vibrant. The peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo, budding South Sudan and the discovery of oil in Uganda and Kenya mean a lot to the industry. We have to brace for the forthcoming needs.”
The two-day regional symposium on aviation security brought together delegates from across Africa and the Indian ocean with the view to enhance cooperation to ensure safety and security of passengers.
Looking at the aviation industry, last year, Uganda recorded the highest number of airlines operating since aviation was first introduced.
“In a period of two years, we have witnessed several carriers including; Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Gulf Airline launch-ing flights into and out of Uganda,” says Vianne Lugya, the CAA spokesperson. “They come in addition to numerous feeder airlines comprising; Rwanda Air, Kenya Airways, Air Uganda and Precision Air that have been involved in fleet and route upgrading.”
The number fell to 20 this year after Gulf Air suspended its flights to Uganda after only two months of being re-launched.”
“However, Uganda recorded a 7.5% increase in its air passenger traffic. The international passenger traffic grew from 1,041,000 to 1,119,000 passengers by end of February 2012, thus registering a 7.5% increase,” Lugya notes.
This is comparably a challenge to other African countries, who have recorded an average growth of 3.2% for the same period as reported by International Air Transport Association (IATA).
However, this increase in number of airlines operating in Uganda has raised a reasonable amount of fear within the industry, since the increase in number of airlines is by far not proportional to the increase in number of travellers, hence affecting the market share of different airlines.
In response to the thriving industry, CAA has a five-year strategic plan to expand Entebbe Airport by remodelling the car parking lot to a multi-levelled one, and also double the aeroplane hangars from the current 11 to 22. It is also planning for a second runway to accommodate bigger planes like those owned by Qatar and Emirates Airways.
Uganda remains optimistic that this thriving airline industry is a stimulant to marketing it as a preferred tourist/investment destination worldwide.
Domestic flight service providers had their business levels plummet after peace returned to northern Uganda.
“The Gulu destination was thriving with NGOs, media personnel and other parties,” recounts a staff of Eagles Airways. “These days Gulu is accessible by road in four hours. Buses now ply the route even at night.
The competition is stiff and we are losers when it comes to the price war.”