For decades aviation experts have railed against lack of connections between African cities, frowning at the idea of a passenger from Nigeria travelling to Europe before connecting a flight to Madagascar, for example.
They also frowned at the visa restrictions, a situation where a traveller in the US could easily secure a visa to Egypt but a Nigerian would have visa request to the same African country turned down.
All these, the insist, are inimical to intra African business and connectivity and the major bane to African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).
But things seem to be easing out. South Africa Airways can now fly Africans to Botswana, Namibia and other southern African destinations. Ethiopian Airlines can fly Africans to many African cities and long haul destinations. Kenya Airways can take African travellers to the rest of East Africa.
And now, Uganda Airlines has joined the fray, well poised to take a chunk of the market. This is why its direct flight between Entebbe and Lagos is a milestone towards cutting a slice of the African air transport market.
What is also remarkable is the zeal Africans are developing to trade among themselves. They are realising that they are the ones that will develop their economies, said the Secretary General, Africa Civil Aviation Commission (AFCAC), Funke Adeyemi, during her recent presentation at the African Aviation conference in Abuja.
Countries are also opening up on visa restrictions and the countries leading the charge are those located in the Horn of Africa: Rwanda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda and others.
There is another significant impact of the flight between Lagos and Entebbe by Uganda Airlines. Many Nigerians have realized that touring African destinations are more rewarding than going to Europe and Middle East, where they are subjected to embarrassing scrutiny; so, there is growing number of Nigerians travelling to different parts of Africa for holidays and for business.
This is a niche market for Uganda Airlines. What is there in Uganda to attract Nigerian businessmen and women and to attract Nigerian tourists?
The Chief Commercial Officer of Uganda Airlines, Adedayo Olawuyi, said there are a lot of things in Uganda that will attract Nigerians to travel to the East African country.
“We are quite positive that a direct flight will definitely be able to stimulate the traffic between the two routes. It will stimulate business; it will stimulate relationships between government partnerships. We have had a lot of engagement; like last week in Kampala, we held a Uganda-Nigeria trade and business forum where we brought in companies, Nigerian companies, which are already doing business in Uganda. We brought in investors who are looking at doing business in Nigeria, who are presently based in Uganda.
“The feedback from that was very positive because everybody seems to have that excitement of being connected to a market as large as Nigeria. The tourism sector also is very excited about that. As you know, there’s been a lot of intra-Africa travel by Africans. So, we want to be able to position ourselves, which is one of the key reasons why the airline was actually set up: to promote Uganda as a destination, to promote business and trade, to improve the balance of trade between Uganda and all the other countries that we relate to.
“So, we are quite positive that with a direct flight the relationships between the two countries will improve on all the different fronts. That is, you will be shocked to know that presently we have over a thousand Nigerian students who are actually schooling in Uganda. We also have a large community of lecturers, people who are being seconded to come and lecture in Ugandan universities from Nigeria. So, these are the things that we found looking into the market,” Olawuyi told THISDAY recently.
The delegation who came with the inaugural flight to Nigeria showed so much enthusiasm and hope. They were elated that the airline opened East-West route, which cut the flight time between the two countries to less than four hours.
The Chief Executive Officer, Uganda Airlines, Jennifer Bamuturaki, said the flight service would be three times a week and would cut travel time from 10 hours to three and half hours.
She noted that the launch of the Entebbe-Lagos route came with several benefits for both Uganda and Nigeria. Firstly, it significantly reduces travel time between the two countries. Previously, travelers had to endure long layovers or multiple connections to reach their destination. With Uganda Airlines’ direct flights, the journey time is reduced from over ten hours to just four hours, providing a more convenient option for travelers.
Moreover, the new route opens up opportunities for increased trade and tourism between Uganda and Nigeria. The inaugural flight was celebrated with the Nigeria-Uganda Trade and Tourism Business Forum, where stakeholders from both countries discussed ways to strengthen bilateral relations. The flight acts as a gateway for business, tourism, culture, and entertainment, fostering closer ties between the two nations.
THISDAY learnt that Uganda Airlines has been in operations for the past four years. Olawuyi said Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa has definitely been on the business implementation plan for the airline. That is primarily because of the population of the country, and because of the ties that Nigeria has with Uganda, and definitely because of the travelling population available in Nigeria.
“We are trying to build a network in Uganda. We present the flight to 11 destinations. On Saturday, the 7th of October, we just launched our flights to Mumbai, India. So, Nigeria has always been one of those destinations that we have been looking to tap into, considering presently there is no direct flight between Entebbe, Uganda and Nigeria. So, that’s actually in a nutshell what informed that decision to start operations into Nigeria,” he said.
Uganda Airlines is operating the route with Airbus A330 neo, one of the most modern aircraft operating in Africa.