Uganda has received two passenger planes, a key step in the country’s efforts to relaunch its defunct national carrier and share in the region’s aviation business.
Ethiopian Airlines and Kenyan Airways are the dominant regional carriers, with Rwandair also coming up.
Founded by Uganda’s former dictator Idi Amin in 1976, Uganda Airlines, was liquidated in the 1990’s by President Yoweri Museveni under a broader program to privatize troubled state firms and open up the economy to private enterprise.
But in 2018, officials started pursuing plans to relaunch the airline to share in East Africa’s growing aviation business.
The CRJ900 planes from Canadian aircraft manufacturer, Bombardier, landed at Entebbe, the country’s sole international airport located south of Kampala, to a gathering of dignitaries including Museveni.
The Ugandan government paid USh280 billion for the two planes through a supplementary budget approval by parliament, according to The East African newspaper.
Initial plans are to eventually acquire six planes, commercial flights expected to commence in July.
It will start with flights to regional capitals but eventually plans to launch direct long-haul routes to China and other Asian countries, whose tourists Uganda is keen to attract.
Museveni said the domestic airline would also soak up a chunk of the estimated KSh40 billion he said Ugandans spend on international travel annually, keeping it in the economy.
“By starting an airline we are going to reduce on the foreign exchange expenditure. Ugandans will be spending money but spending it on our airline,” he said.
Ugandan travelers have long complained about high ticket costs they say stem from limited competition in a market dominated by Kenyan Airways and Ethiopian Airlines.
Experts say reviving the airline will boost competition and likely lower costs for Ugandan travelers.
“Even if they are returning zero profit the economic benefits will be quite high,” a economics lecturer was was quoted by Reuters.
The country expects to start pumping crude oil in 2022 and the government hopes oil-related activity will boost the volume of its international travel business.
Ongoing construction at Entebbe, financed by a Chinese loan, is expected to sharply increase the airports passenger and cargo handling capacity, while a new international airport is being constructed near the country’s oilfields in the west.