By Denis Jjuuko
Uganda’s two Bombardier CRJ900 planes touched down at Entebbe International Airport on Tuesday signaling the beginning of a new era for Uganda Airlines, a company shutdown 19 years ago after its most important arm at the time, ground handling, was sold for a song. Going by social media accounts, there isn’t a lot of enthusiasm from the general public as some people called the CRJ900 Kibaluma (Pioneer) buses and Tuk Tuk (rickshaw) with wings and so many such other things.
I think this is because of the way the country is at the moment. People may not have a lot of hope in many things Ugandan due mainly to malaise and wanton corruption in the public sector. Of course the company’s registration issues and the government’s failure to efficiently communicate partly fuels this. A clever politician may say Ugandans are unpatriotic. However, the lack of expectation and support for Uganda Airlines’ birds and most importantly its revival cuts out the job for whoever is responsible for its management. Perhaps, the best job in the airline world today besides that of the CEO of Boeing due to the 738 Max plane, is that of the CEO of Uganda Airlines. I call it the best job in the world because it enables one to showcase what they are made of. Will he safely guide the airline to a safe flight path and land properly or will he stall it leading to a crash?
Uganda Airlines will have to earn its place in the hearts of Ugandans. It won’t be loved simply because its tail is covered with the Ugandan flag or that Luwombo and Rolex may be served on flights. Far from it. It will be loved when it provides affordable, reliable, and safe flights. A friend commented that he fears that the birds may one day run out of fuel while in midair as someone either would have ‘eaten’ the fuel or simply forgot to refuel. It is a sneer remark referring to the malaise in the public sector that I mentioned earlier.
Where another airline may not have a lot of convincing to do, Uganda Airlines would have to double its efforts. Its management must choose the routes carefully, systematically and strategically market the company and leave no stone unturned when it comes to safety. The Civil Aviation Authority needs to double its regulatory efforts too and where any public servants cut corners, they must be seriously reprimanded. The most important element in air travel is trust — based mainly on safety and reliability. If customers stop trusting an airline, it grounds to a halt as tickets can be quickly canceled. The good thing is that Uganda Airlines has been there before and hopefully it learnt the hard lessons. Patriotism alone like I heard a minister say Ugandans must fly the Crane won’t cut it. People will fly the Crane if they think it is reliable, safe, and affordable.
Acquiring planes is usually the easier part in the airline business and I must commend government for choosing to get brand new ones as opposed to leasing from some shoddy offshore companies, which in most cases end up providing junk. I hope that their role won’t end with acquisition and go full circle and support the airline to be able for the planes to remain flying. I must admit I haven’t seen the business case for Uganda Airlines and I hope it does exist. I don’t know whether it is projected to make money or not but its management must avoid politics and the excesses of big men in government.
Flights must not wait for somebody who is taking their time in Kampala or those who will flaunt their connections to fly for free, occupy business class seats when they actually possess economy tickets and move around like they own the aircraft asking cabin crew whether they know who they are.
Professionalism will be key to keep the Crane flying. We must note that a Crane is naturally graceful, some say lazy and any attempt to frustrate it will ensure it won’t get bothered flying again. We shouldn’t, therefore, give it an opportunity not to fly.
The cabin crew should have the best training the world can offer and experience in flying these particular aircraft. Pilots and cabin crew shouldn’t be based on where one comes from or who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody in Uganda Airlines, parent ministry or in some big house in Entebbe. Otherwise happy resurrection day, Uganda Airlines.
The writer is a Communication and Visibility Consultant. firstname.lastname@example.org