NAIROBI - Uganda is the latest country in Africa to revive its airline. East Africa now has five national carriers in all. However, a trade group predicts that most will lose money this year due to high fuel prices and the inability to sell all the seats.
If you are living in East Africa, you may soon have several airlines to choose from, if you want to travel within the continent.
Uganda is the latest to bring back its carrier after 30 years offline, joining its neighbors Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda.
Joseph Muvawala is the head of Uganda National Planning. He says the reasons behind bringing back the airline were economic.
“Our citizens were losing close to $500 million in economic value in the cost of the ticket. We needed to increase the supply of air transport, to reduce on the cost of tickets," he said. "At the same time we as a country have a lot of exports. We are doing mainly in food crops which are perishable and we needed connection.”
Meanwhile, Kenyan policymakers are looking for ways to save their country's carrier, which has been losing millions of dollars.
Some lawmakers want the national carrier to be run by the government.
If that happens, the chairman of Kenya Airways, Michael Joseph, wants the carrier to appoint the top managers.
“We do not want to create a situation that we had before, where you nationalize an airline and all becomes a department of government [and] the board of directors is loaded by friends of politicians. We want to make sure [if] we create a national airline, it will operate as semi-autonomous airline and semi-autonomous airport industry,” he said.
The International Air Transport Association, or IATA, predicts that African airlines will lose money this year, as in the previous four years.
Andrew Matters is the IATA deputy chief economist. He says all of the African air carriers face high operating costs.
“For example, we know fuel cost for airlines within part of this world are 35 percent higher than they are elsewhere in the world. So that fuel cost accounts for something [like] 25-30 percent of an airline's operating costs. So fuel cost is critical. When we think about the cost, we also think about taxes and charges [that] may be country-specific, so we need to look and understand what is happening in that regard as well," he said.
Ethiopia Airlines is the only carrier in Africa doing well, helped by the presence of the African Union, headquartered in Addis Ababa, and Ethiopia's proximity to Asia.
Muvawala says the other East African national carriers, including those of Tanzania and Rwanda, should consider creating one regional airline.
“What the leaders of East Africa need to do is to make sure how do we then put all these resources together to make ourselves more powerful,” he said.
People in the East African Community bloc are already free to move across borders and trade freely. Whether the countries can cooperate to form a regional airline remains to be seen.