While Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni honoured his Rwandan counterpart Paul Kagame in a ceremony at Liberation Day in Kapchorwa / North Eastern Uganda on Thursday, the day when 26 years ago his then National Resistance Army captured the capital Kampala and threw the old dictatorships out for good, the two national airlines Air Uganda and RwandAir reportedly broke off relations when notice was served by Air Uganda to terminate the existing code share arrangement between the two carriers effective March 2012.

As in many such commercial break ups there are two sides to the story, previously referred to here in related articles, and both sides were understandably shy to go on record other than confirming the development at this time.

Both airlines it was however learned from reliable sources, did not see their expectations and hopes fulfilled from the code share deal, which was initially aimed at providing an early morning and late evening connection between Entebbe and Kigali, allowing for one day trips on business, something many travelers took advantage of in the past. Complaints learned about in the past ranged from unilateral fare changes to changes in departure times.

While RwandAir since signing the agreement embarked on an aggressive growth strategy, which saw their fleet grow to 7 aircraft, and more in the order pipeline it is understood, Air Uganda struggled to reverse flagging fortunes caused by the business choices made by several rather inept managers from Italys Meridiana, a sister airline under the same ownership. After burning money galore they left in shame and only when immediate past CEO Hugh Fraser arrived did a turnaround take shape, now continued under Kayle Haywood who joined U7 from Air Arabia in October last year.

However, across the border were a new Board of Directors chairman and members of the board unveiled last week too, with aviation veteran Wake, formerly a long serving Ethiopian Airlines CEO, now at the helm. The move is injecting some serious African aviation expertise into RwandAir and will undoubtedly help shape the airlines ambitions towards turning them into reality, given the support the airline enjoys from the highest levels of government in Kigali.

It is understood that Air Uganda is now more actively looking at expansion again, already flying twice a day between Entebbe and Juba / South Sudan, while RwandAir is also working on new destinations, in the region and beyond, where they already fly to Johannesburg, three West African destinations Brazzaville, Libreville, Lagos and to Dubai.

A regular source from Kigali recently said: New destinations for RwandAir are being evaluated but the airline needs to have additional aircraft to accomplish that and sustain a growing network. It will go step by step and as new planes arrive new destinations will be unveiled.

Flights between Entebbe and Kigali though, once the code share partnership officially ends, will probably see added services as permitted under the bilateral air services agreement between the two countries, which will as a result keep fares low for travelers but will equally pose a financial challenge for the two airlines to make commercial sense out of the route and sustain long term the number of daily flights they both intend to offer. Air Uganda, with their three times a week routing via Bujumbura / Burundi has the added advantage of combining a second destination with their daily flight to Kigali, and is offering travelers from there onward flights to the South Sudanese capital Juba, a destination still missing from the RwandAir network. Watch this space for the next round of the Battle of the skies over East Africa.

By Wolfgang H. Thome

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