Uganda on Tuesday re-launched its national airline after two decades with an inaugural flight to Nairobi, becoming the latest East African nation seeking to revive their aviation industry.
“The airline will first fly to seven destinations. Starting with Nairobi, Mogadishu, Juba and Dar es Saalam. And then to Mombasa, Kilimanjaro and Bujumbura,” said Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda at Entebbe International Airport.
Uganda Airlines is launching into increasingly crowded East African skies, where both Rwanda and Tanzania have in recent years revived their national airlines in a bid to capture a slice of the booming market.
They are taking on regional giants Kenya Airways — which continues to expand despite struggling with years of losses and management woes — and Ethiopian Airlines, which largely dominates the skies.
“Uganda Airlines is coming to compete in the market alongside other airlines”, said Transport Minister Monica Azuba.
Uganda Airlines was founded by former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in 1976 but the carrier was liquidated in 2001 after a failed bid to privatise the floundering company, dogged by corruption and mismanagement.
The country has acquired two new Bombardier CRJ 900 jets, and will take delivery of another two in September, while the addition of two Airbus A330-800 planes in 2020 will allow it to carry out long-haul flights.
“Uganda Airlines will have direct flights from Uganda to China plus other countries, and it will be very important in hitting the four million tourist goal the government has set,” said Tourism Minister Ephraim Kamuntu.
Uganda welcomed 1.8 million tourists in 2018, according to official statistics.
Meanwhile, neighbouring Tanzania has invested heavily in reviving its airline, with the purchase of six planes including Bombardiers, Airbus and one Boeing dreamliner since 2016. Air Tanzania launched its first route outside of the continent to Mumbai, India, in July.
Rwanda has massively invested in its national airline Rwandair, with a fleet of 12 jets which now fly 29 routes around the world, with the most recent flight launched to Israel in June.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Rwanda breached its debt ceiling of $500 million by $87 million due to the lease of new aircrafts in 2018, and is seeking further loans to expand routes and make a profit.
Numerous airlines in Africa have failed to stay afloat, or survive on government bailouts.