ROUTES AFRICA: Air Uganda Hopes to Link with Celestair Partners for pan-African Operation

Air Uganda and its partners within the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED)-backed Celestair Group are looking to link their East and West African networks in an attempt to enhance connectivity between the two regions of the continent.  The group, which also includes Air Burkina, Air Mali and Air Ivoire, are looking at the opportunity of connecting flights via appoint in Central Africa, allowing the regional networks to be integrated.

Speaking to The HUB during the recent Routes Africa forum in Kampala, Uganda, the carrier’s recently appointed Chief Executive Officer, Cornwell Muleya confirmed details about the tentative business proposal.  “We are looking at ways we can join Air Uganda with the rest of the Celestair Group and perhaps integrate our networks to cross from East and West Africa,” he said.

Muleya, who joined the carrier from aircraft leasing specialist, ALS Limited in Kenya, is well versed on the aviation sector in Africa having held senior positions at a number of carriers, including Air Mauritius, Air Botswana, Air Tanzania and Zambezi Airlines.  He believes that the carrier could play a strong role in Uganda’s vision to boost its tourism appeal and enhance its economy.

“Uganda needed a strong airline to promote tourism and the growth of the economy by increasing connections out of Entebbe and over the past five plus years Air Uganda has succeeded in that role.  We have steadily grown as a business over this time as a regional airline, so our vision has been purely to connect Uganda with the rest of East Africa.  We successfully followed that formula and are now at a stage of consolidating our activities out of Entebbe,” he explained.

However, the executive believes there is still scope to develop into new markets, a move that will help facilitate any integration with its Celestair partner carriers.  “To a certain extent we are still looking at options to expand our activities into areas such as Central Africa, especially markets such as the Congo,” he said.

Air Uganda initially launched flights with 99-seat McDonnell Douglas MD-87 but has recently completed a refleeting exercise to transition to a fleet of three smaller 50-seat Bombardier CRJ200s.  “We have consolidated our regional network with an appropriate aircraft that fits the route network and structure that we have,” said Muleya.  “The CRJ200 gives us speed and opportunity to better provide the frequency required on our short sector network.”

The carrier currently operates up to three daily frequencies to Nairobi, Kenya and Juba, South Sudan as well as daily links to Kigali, Rwanda and Bujumbura, Democratic Republic of Congo, with Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mombasa in Kenya also part of the network.  Flights to Mogadishu in Somalia were also launched earlier this month. 

There are arguments that this network could perhaps be better served using turboprop equipment, but Muleya is happy with carrier’s current business model.  “There is certainly room for turboprop aircraft in our market given the sectors we operate,” he acknowledged.  “However, our policy is a jet operation and there remains a stigma about turboprop operations in the continent.  Regional jet pricing has come down in recent years and currently offer us the right balance between the cost of operation, flight service and profitability.  We don’t have any concerns the availability of more aircraft in the future should we seek to grow.”

With its model, Air Uganda is mainly targeting the regional market but is working closely with other carriers to support passenger flows from other parts of Africa and the rest of the world.  It already has interline partnerships with British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Kenya Airways and more and discussions are now also taking place with South African Airways (SAA).  “We are looking at working with SAA for agreements to markets in the south,” said Muleya.

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