Uganda Airlines is planning to acquire its first narrowbody jets, interim chief executive Jenifer Bamuturaki has disclosed. The state-owned airline currently operates four two A330-800s and four CRJ900s on flights that connect its Entebbe/Kampala base with Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan, Kenya, the DRC and Somalia regionally as well as South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) internationally.

In an interview with Aviadev last week, Bamuturaki said the need for a bridging solution between the regional jet and the widebody arose given the former's operational limitations on flights over three hours in length.

"When you look at the type of aircraft we have now, and based on the routes we want to fly, we realised we needed a mid-range jet, something between the Airbus and the CRJ," she said. "So the plan is to look for equipment that carries between 120 and 150 passengers that can do long-range without a stop-over. At the moment, with the CRJ, we fly direct to South Africa, to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo, but we have to 'cut' it because of weight, volume and all that. It's got its limitations which makes it unprofitable on the route. Also baggage becomes an issue. So the need for a 120-150 seater is becoming really important for us."

With the A220-300 from Airbus and the E195-E2 from Embraer in play, she hinted that the most likely contender for the contract would be Airbus given Uganda Airlines' eagerness to maintain manufacturer commonality.

While the procurement is finalised, Uganda Airlines will focus on building its regional African network using its CRJs. According to Bamuturaki, Uganda Airlines is planning to expand to Lusaka in Zambia and Harare Int'l in Zimbabwe and has also set its sights on Lagos in West Africa. Studies are also underway over possible entries into into Central and North African markets. Concerning the A330neo, she said that with China currently closed, the need for alternative opportunities for the widebody jets has become even more pressing.

"We have been thinking, where can the Airbus go? And we're looking beyond Entebbe - where are people going and where do they prefer to go through? So the CRJ feeder network will direct where the Airbus is deployed. For example, there is a lot of traffic out of Southern Africa into London. So it would make no sense for us to start the southern routes now without London opening up. So 2022 will see five more routes coming online while more frequencies will be put in on existing routes."