Uganda Airlines has selected October 18 as the tentative date for its inaugural flight to China. In mid-June, the carrier secured rights to operate a single weekly flight to any point in China except Beijing and Shanghai. The 11-hour sector will be Uganda Airlines’ longest and will help improve the utilization of the two Airbus A330-800s in its fleet. Uganda Airlines plans for October 18 launch to Guangzhou.
Officials say they are close to clearing all regulatory hurdles and completing arrangements for receiving the flights on the ground in Guangzhou. “We are way ahead along the track to launch of the service to Guangzhou. We can now speak with confidence that come October 18, the inaugural flight will take off,” says Regina Tebasiima, the manager for revenue management, who is also acting in the commercial director role, in the interim.
The outbound flights will leave Entebbe shortly after midnight for a same-day late afternoon arrival in China. The flight will turnround within a two-hour window for a return to base by midnight the same day. “We are trying to stick to a 24-hour rotation in order to ensure the fleet will be adequate when we grow the frequency and also start the service to London,” Tebasiima told AirInsight. The airline said back in January that it hoped to launch more international services this year.
She adds that preparations for the long-anticipated services to London are about halfway done and commercial flights are expected to start anywhere between December 2022 and March 2023. “It is work in progress. We are looking at the six-month window between October and March 2023, as the definitive period, because at the bilateral level, the relevant government organs have covered a lot of ground. At the airline, we have been proactive making sure that we tick all the relevant boxes,” Tebasiima explained.
The inaugural flight to Guangzhou will operate as a hybrid proving flight, as well as a commercial operation with paying passengers. The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority requires all home-registered operators to conduct such flights with inspectors on board, prior to giving the operation a final green light. Besides the restrictions that tie the airline to a single weekly frequency, the China Civil Aviation Commission (CAAC) has also limited the number of passengers on board to just under 60 percent load factor at 150 of the 258 seats on board.
Although travelers to China will be subject to Covid-19 restrictions, including a quarantine period, Tebasiima believes there’s sufficient pent-up demand within the resident Chinese community and Ugandan traders to support the service. “Of course, we would have loved it, if we were allowed to fly unrestricted but we have to appreciate the unique challenges the destination faces,” she says. China has maintained a zero-Covid policy, that has seen it keep travel restrictions in place, longer than other regions of the world.
Uganda Airlines is looking to the long-haul network to stimulate connecting traffic between the existing regional network and destinations such as London and Guangzhou. Bujumbura in Burundi, Kinshasa, and Juba is already showing good potential for connecting traffic.