Flag carrier Uganda Airlines is inching towards making a selection for its mid-range fleet, as pressure grows to match revenue to capacity better grows. The anticipated launch of services to the Far East and Europe is also expected to generate new traffic that will stretch the capacity of the Mitsubishi CRJ-900, the mainstay of the carrier’s regional fleet. Uganda Airlines close to decision on mid-range fleet.
Sales teams from Airbus and Boeing were in Kampala last week, each pitching its offer for the requirement. Besides the airlines’ board and management, the delegations had engagements with officials from the finance and transport ministries – the two shareholders in the carrier for now. The airline has been in urgent need of new aircraft for some time and started preparations for a request for proposal last year.
Boeing’s visit to Kampala is a follow to a meeting Boeing executives had with Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni in Chicago, during his working visit to the US last December. In the meeting, Museveni is understood to have raised questions about the MAX’s safety while the Boeing team gave assurances on the type’s safety. On return to Kampala, he ordered his aides to compile a comprehensive brief on the type and the two accidents that killed 346 people. A dossier has been submitted.
Uganda Airlines chief executive Jenifer Bamuturaki did not volunteer details beyond confirming the meetings. “Everyone is pitching. Airbus is pitching, Boeing is pitching and Embraer is pitching but as Uganda Airlines, what we are interested in is a mid-range aircraft,” she said.
However, independent sources familiar with the discussions, said Airbus is offering the A321neo while Boeing pitched the entire range of the MAX family from the -7 to the -10. The sources further say that the carrier is pushing to make an early selection because it is interested in owning rather than leasing the fleet.
While the immediate need is for two aircraft, the potential commitment is for six units, including another two mid-range passenger aircraft and two freighters. One of the freighters will be in the 30-ton payload weight class while another should be capable of lifting 60 tons of cargo over extended distances. The last pair of passenger aircraft are expected to follow three to four years after the first delivery.
The airline wants a mid-range that will serve the fairly dense flights to West Africa but also have the capacity and range to substitute the A330-800 on routes to Europe and the Middle East. The lack of an aircraft between the 76-seat Mitsubishi CRJ-900 and the 257-seat A330-800, saw the carrier book huge losses in the initial operations of the service to Dubai. A similar scenario is expected when the service to Accra via Lagos is launched later this year. The mid-range is also expected to take over the Mumbai sector, which will initially be operated with the service to Guangzhou.