Harare - Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni feels let down by regional airlines such as South African Airways (SAA), which he said charge exorbitant fares and have failed to help service routes into the African country.
Museveni has moved in to finalise negotiations for a Ugandan national airline.
However, the national airline the country is setting up will fly into uncertain skies dominated by African state-owned airlines that continue to bleed governments. Air Zimbabwe and SAA are among a host of state-run airlines in Africa that make losses.
“I thought that our brothers in Ethiopia, Kenya, South Africa, etc having airlines would serve all of us. That, however, is apparently not the case,” said Museveni in an address to cabinet on Thursday.
Mozambique Airlines on Thursday announced it is cancelling flights into Angola, citing a restructuring of the company, its products and the routes operated, as well as the economic and financial assessment its board is undertaking. The Mozambican state airliner may also shelve flights to other regional routes.
Most airlines servicing regional and international routes linking with Uganda levy high fares, Museveni said.
A ticket from Kampala to Nairobi costs between $1 100 and $1 200 for business class and around $600 for economy class, while tickets from the country’s capital to London are charged at $3 000 for business class and around $1 100 for economy class.
Uganda now seeks to speed up the setting up of a national airline, but regional aviation experts cautioned on Wednesday that subsidising airlines for lower air fares would result in huge burdens on national budgets.
“In these five years (2016 to 2021) Uganda will encourage the setting up of a national airline. Ugandan travellers are suffering because of, apparently, not having a national airline (and) this is a big shame,” Museveni said.
He has now directed the Ugandan Ministry of Works and Transport to conclude discussions with investors that can help start a national airline. This, he believes, will help the African country save the $420m per year that Ugandans spend on travel.
“The national airline will also create jobs and career opportunities for our children who train as pilots. Apart from joining the Uganda Airforce, opportunities for them are very limited.” Uganda is also an attractive destination for tourists as it boasts national parks, sanctuaries and tombs.
He also took a swipe at regional airline operators such as SAA and Kenya Airways who benefit from the Ugandan market, saying they should have “remembered to treat our children as their own because our purchasing power is supporting those airlines”.