19 July 2014

Kenya: KQ, Ethiopian Airlines Reap From Halting of Air Uganda

Air Uganda (file photo): Uganda airlines grounded over safety audit measures.

Air Uganda's absence from the Entebbe-Nairobi route has created a boon for rival airlines operating between Kenya and Uganda, with tickets sold out for up to Wednesday for some.

Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines are seen as immediate benefactors after their rival suspended operations since June 17 following withdrawal of its operating licence by the regulator.

Air Uganda on Friday said this was occasioned by a damning audit by Canada's Montreal-based International Civil Aviation Organisation that poked holes in Uganda's Civil Aviation Authority oversight and supervisory capacity over airlines under its jurisdiction.

Consequently, CAA withdrew Air Operator Certificates, paralysing Air Uganda alongside Uganda Air Cargo and TransAfrik Uganda pending revision of approval procedures.

The seven-year old airline said it was in the dark when the indefinite suspension of its flights by Ugandan aviation authorities would be lifted. It has blamed its losses on the Uganda aviation regulator's failures.

The indefinite suspension of its operations, chief executive Cornwell Muleya said, "will adversely impact on key stakeholders" including the airline's 231 staff with an undisclosed number of aircraft set to be returned to the "lessors' chosen facility abroad".

"Air Uganda assures the public that it did everything under its control in the most difficult of circumstances to minimise the impact on its clientele," Muleya said.

It was operating on other regional routes including Dar es Salaam, Bujumbura, Kigali, Mogadishu, Kilimanjaro, Mombasa and Juba.

Claims have emerged that rivals operating regular scheduled flights on Nairobi-Entebbe route have hiked fares amid a huge demand occasioned by its absence.

Kenya Airways earlier in the month denied any review of its fares to Entebbe following grounding of Air Uganda, insisting its fare structure has remained intact over the last 10 months.

It said the cheapest flight on the route was $120 (about Sh10,530) and increases based on flight demand.

A spot check on Friday showed most airlines on Nairobi-Entebbe route have sold their weekend air tickets and up to Wednesday, signalling the deluge in demand.

KQ, for example, by Friday afternoon had fully-booked to capacity for Nairobi to Entebbe flights between Sunday and Tuesday.

Its online reservation system showed a ticket to Entebbe for Saturday from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was Friday afternoon priced at Sh24,405. The Saturday flight from Entebbe to Nairobi was fully booked with Sunday's fare costing Sh25,945. Tickets would revert to Sh15,180 on Monday is there will be less demand.

KQ's chief operating officer Mbuvi Ngunze, who becomes CEO in November, did not respond to telephone calls and text requests seeking to establish its experience since Air Uganda withdrew from the route.

Ethiopian Airline's flights to Entebbe for Saturday were fully booked with the last few seats remaining for Sunday priced at between Sh28,708 and Sh34,090 depending on departure time, excluding early morning that was fully booked.

The airline's flights from Entebbe to JKIA were fully booked for the weekend with Monday fares at between Sh15,254 and Sh22,429 depending on departure time.

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