Flag carrier Uganda Airlines is planning to use the Air Operators Certificate it is currently using to operate ferry flights for the annual Hajj Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, as a pedestal to launch scheduled services between Entebbe and Jeddah, starting this September.
Speaking on Monday on the sidelines of the flag-off of the first of two flights that will take some 450 Ugandan Muslims to Mecca, Chief Executive Officer Jenifer Bamuturaki said a three-times scheduled service would start in September, using the current permit that runs up to July 2024.
“The operator’s permit that we currently have will go up to July next year. We plan to use that to launch scheduled services to Jeddah, and then extend it further to July 2024,” she told AirInsight.
The first outbound flight to Saudi Arabia in four decades departed Entebbe shortly after 10 am local time, with 200 passengers on board. A second flight with 250 passengers will follow on June 20, with the return flights expected to pick up the pilgrims from Medina in late July.
Bamuturaki added that the availability of direct flights between Entebbe and Saudi Arabia would remove the stress of traveling through intermediary points to connect to Mecca. Although as many as 3.000 Ugandan Muslims are registered to visit Mecca this year, Uganda Airlines has been able to claw back just 500, from competitors who serve the destination through connecting airports in Addis Ababa, Doha, Dubai, and Sharjah in the Gulf.
On the radar for some time
Jeddah has been on Uganda Airline’s radar for some time, mainly targeting the 10.000 plus annual migrant labor market to Saudi Arabia as a mainstay for the operation. When it launches, it will be the twelfth destination for the comeback flag carrier, whose plans to expand further in Africa, have been held back by delayed opening of services to London, Mumbai, and Guangzhou. Guangzhou is also expected to launch in September while London has been pushed back to July 2024. A previous plan saw service to Guangzhou launched in October 2022.
Bamuturaki says besides difficulties in securing operating permits for intra-African routes to the west and southern Africa, their business case is partially premised on the availability of onward lift to Europe and Asia.