Why London May Not Be A Viable Route For Uganda Airlines

There are still major doubts surrounding Uganda’s LHR flights.

The former chairman of Uganda Airlines has cast doubt on the carrier’s plans to operate flights to London, claiming that the route is not viable. Uganda Airlines obtained slots at London Heathrow Airport over a year ago but has yet to launch flights. We take a closer look at this below.

Uganda’s London route

Uganda Airlines is reportedly still waiting for a foreign carrier permit to operate flights to the UK, over a year after the carrier acquired a lucrative landing slot at London Heathrow Airport. In April, the airline announced that its much-anticipated A330neo flights to London will commence in November with a thrice-weekly service, but this might not happen.

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The airline’s chairman between 1998 and 2001, Professor Wasswa Balunywa, told The Independent that he believes the airline should prioritize launching flights to China rather than pursue UK operations.

Uganda had set a November launch date, but this may no longer happen. Photo: London Heathrow Airport

Balunywa added that British Airways scrapped its London-Entebbe flights back in 2016 as they were no longer viable and encouraged Uganda Airlines to market its other planned international routes whilst expanding interlining agreements with other carriers.

A spokesperson for Uganda Airlines, Shakira Rahim, responded,

“The London route is selling like a hot cake because of school children going there. We are exporting agro products like vegetables, pineapples there, flowers and when we drop them in London, they can be carried to the Netherlands and elsewhere, so London is a gateway for many things.”

At this stage, CEO Jennifer Bamuturaki, who has been questioned by parliament regarding her alleged lack of qualifications, has yet to confirm whether LHR flights will commence in November or not. This suggests the launch could be set back yet again, or possibly even scrapped for good.

Delay after delay

Uganda Airlines has yet to launch its London service almost 18 months after receiving its slots, with Brexit playing a key role in delays. The African carrier secured a morning landing slot at London Heathrow back in March 2021, promising up to five flights a week between London and Entebbe.

The early morning 06:00 landing slot came as a surprise to many, given how lucrative they are at LHR. For example, Oman Air paid an eye-watering $75 million for a sought-after 05:30 slot, while Air New Zealand sold off a pair of slots for $27 million in 2020.

The African airline received is first Airbus A330neo in December 2020. Photo: Airbus

After initially penciling in a May 2021 launch date, the carrier then revised this to September 2021 before the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) demanded that it apply for a foreign carrier permit, a process which takes around six months.

This permit was necessitated by the UK’s exit from the European Union (EU). Prior to this, carriers would apply to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) which takes a lot less time compared to the UK.

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Uganda’s international network

Currently, Uganda Airlines flies to just a single non-African destination (Dubai) despite promising up to seven destinations abroad, including Guangzhou, Amsterdam, Mumbai, and London. The airline is set to launch its Guangzhou service in October but hasn’t given an update on its other routes.

The African carrier serves ten regional destinations and operates with a fleet of six planes – four CRJ900 and two Airbus A330neo jets. Since its launch in August 2019, Uganda has reported growing losses every financial year, reaching over $60 million for FY21-22.

Do you think Uganda Airlines will eventually launch its London Heathrow flights? Let us know your insights in the comments.

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