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Uganda Mulls Rebuilding National Airline


Uganda map

Uganda map

Fourteen years ago Uganda Airlines was dissolved by the government after an attempt to privatize the national airline was hampered by a lacking investment.

A few years later, Air Uganda, a privately held company, established itself as a leader in regional destinations.

Yet earlier this year, Uganda’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) pulled Air Uganda’s operating license, citing safety concerns, and an opportunity for Ugandan Airlines to reinvigorate itself was presented.

Last week, CAA officials met with high level government representatives to establish a preliminary framework that could see Uganda Airlines resurrected as the country’s flagship carrier.

The CAA says talks are in the works as shareholders attempt to hammer out a proposal. Further discussions with the Ministry of Works and Transport, the Ministry of Finance, and the cabinet are scheduled.

If successful, the framework for the airline’s revival could be taken before parliament and worked into the next fiscal year. While some say the carrier would inspire national pride and tourism revenue, the effort will require a massive investment of government funding to get off the ground.

Former Ugandan Airlines General Manager Dickson Turinawe says costs would be substantial, but he thinks a national airline would be good for the country.

"There must be that will to finance, there must be willingness to actually lose money for up to three years," said Turinawe. "You capitalize and lose money. And capitalization should be integrative."

Because Uganda is a landlocked country, he added, a national airline is a critical strategic asset.

"It is not just for fun," he said. "You can have a situation where you must use your airline. The other thing is, there are certain industries that cannot survive without a national airline ... [that] in hard times you are still able to access the world."

Although regional competition would be stiff, Turinawe contends that as long as you invest in long range routes and aircraft, the small, regional low cost airlines could form a mutually beneficial relationship with a future Uganda Airlines.

"You can have an arrangement with [privately held airlines]," he said. "You have your hub and you take off for long range operations. So it depends on how you strategize. You can work together with these small low cost airlines."

In the next few weeks, government officials will continue to discuss the possibility of bringing Uganda Airways back to Entebbe Airport. If there is majority approval, funding for the carrier will likely be written into next year’s fiscal budget.

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