Uganda Airlines leases A320 aircraft to up operations

Uganda Airlines plans to deploy a wet-leased A320 on services to Nairobi, Johannesburg, Lagos and Kinshasa routes on which it has seen significant growth but whose operation was getting increasingly challenged by capacity shortfalls.

According to a schedule seen by The EastAfrican, Johannesburg will be its primary route, where it will operate six flights a week, followed by Nairobi, where it will be used to operate the evening UR 204/5, three times a week.

Nairobi is the busiest route, accounting for 64 of the 293 departures scheduled for the next seven days. The evening departure to Nairobi is typically on heavy demand.

Uganda Airlines Chief Executive Officer Jenifer Bamuturaki said the aircraft, which has been leased on a short-term contract and comes with its flight-deck and cabin crew, is intended to help the airline “maintain schedule integrity” as part of existing fleet of four CRJ-900s and two A330-800s go into scheduled maintenance.

The lease will “also help to resolve operational challenges on routes like Johannesburg and Kinshasa, where we have been unable to operate efficiently due to capacity limitations and augment operations on services to Nairobi and Lagos,” the airline said.

Ms Bamuturaki said growth in demand on certain routes has “introduced certain pressures into our operations” and leasing the A320 would “add flexibility to our operations.”

Significantly for Uganda Airlines, the 160-seat aircraft configured to a two-class cabin featuring 12 business class and 138 economy seats, will eliminate weight restrictions especially on the Johannesburg and Kinshasa routes.

The former route has become important as a source of feed into the service to Mumbai. The new route, launched last October, alongside Lagos has fast gained traction owing to the suspension of services to Mumbai by Rwandair, a fairly large resident Indian community and cross feed with Nigeria.

For several months now, Uganda Airlines has been grappling with operational challenges that saw frequent flight postponements or outright cancellations. Ms Bamuturaki blamed the chaos on crew shortages, following the decamping of expatriate pilots for greener pastures, and aircraft availability.

Crew duty time limitations meant that the reduced pilot complement could not be deployed to guarantee the full schedule while mandatory maintenance also took some aircraft out of service. The airline took a tandem delivery of two CRJs in April 2019, followed by others in July and September of that year. This has complicated operations as half the fleet is required to go into scheduled almost simultaneously.

For several months, Uganda government officials have been trying to negotiate the purchase of mid-range aircraft from European manufacturer Airbus, but there has been no indication of progress towards agreement. Still, officials insist the first midrange aircraft will be delivered around July 2025. The lease with Global Airlines is for one year.

News emerged on April 23 that President Yoweri Museveni had held discussions with a delegation from Boeing the previous day.

According to sources familiar with the deliberations, Mr Museveni agreed to the purchase of four aircraft – a B737 and B777 freighter, as well as two B787-800 passenger aircraft. Delivery of the B737 is expected in 2026, while no tentative delivery timetable for the Dreamliners was discussed.

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