By Andrew Irumba
Uganda Airlines, the flagship carrier for the country, is ready to kick-start its self-handling project once it gets the necessary approval from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA), TheSpy Uganda reports.
Derick Ouma, the Duty Manager at Uganda Airlines, says everything needed for the national carrier to handle its ground handling operations is in place.
“We are at a good point to start our own ground handling operations. According to our plans, this should start by 1st August this year. We are only waiting for necessary approvals from UCAA which we hope to get soon. Otherwise, we have done so much to ensure that we are good to start,” Ouma said in an exclusive interview with our reporter yesterday Tuesday at Entebbe International airport.
Ouma explained that the airline industry basically has seven disciplines; flight operations, flight dispatch, maintenance (aircraft maintenance), cabin crew, ground handling, cargo and security. He says each of them is important for the successful operation of an airline.
He added that self-handling falls under the ground-handling department and it involves passenger services, baggage handling, cargo handling, GSE maintenance (workshop), ramp handling and general ground operations.
During a recent press briefing, Ephraim Bagenda, the Director Engineering and Maintenance at Uganda Airlines, said the national carrier is currently spending US$250,000 per month (about Shs944.6m going by the current exchange rate) on contracted maintenance and ground-handling operations.
This means that the national carrier roughly spends about US$3m (Shs11.3bn) annually on contracted self-handling services.
“Once we get approval (from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority) to handle ourselves and maintain our fleet, all that money will be saved,” Bagenda said.
Explaining further what ground handling entails, Ouma said it includes below and above the wing operations.
Below the wing operations cover loading and offloading of cargo, passenger handling, aircraft push-back and towing, potable water services (water mainly used in the kitchen) and toilet services.
Above-the-wing operations include cabin cleaning and loading the catering on the aircraft among others.
Currently, DAS does ground handling for Uganda Airlines.
Like other officials at Uganda Airlines, Ouma strongly believes self-handling will greatly cut costs for the national carrier and enhance safety and security since the airline will be directly responsible for ground-handling operations.
“Self-handling will make us run the airline efficiently. We don’t think another person (contracted company) can do it better than we want to,” Ouma says.
During a recent interview, Shakila Rahim Lamar, the Corporate Affairs & Public Relations Manager at Uganda Airlines, said: “Self-handling will enable the Airline to cut 60% of its operating costs if it handles most of its operations at its hub in Entebbe.”
According to Ouma, Uganda Airlines intends to offer ground handling services to other carriers and generate more revenue for the country’s flagship carrier.
“Two years from now, Uganda Airlines shall embark on third-party handling. We want to attract business from other airlines operating at Entebbe International Airport,” he says, adding that the money currently being spent on contracted self-handling will help the carrier acquire more state-of-the-art equipment and expand its operations.
Ready To Rollout
Uganda Airline’s self-handling project is headed by Richard Kinalwa, who is deputized by Ouma. The duo has a wealth of experience in ground-handling operations.
Ouma says the airline has already recruited enough people who will work as passenger handlers, equipment operators/mechanics, cleaners, cabin groomers and drivers among others.
He says their current handler (DAS) has been supportive by offering the recruited staff on-job training. He adds that the recruited staff who are 99.9% Ugandans have also been trained in various courses in ground handling by accredited companies.
“We have been working with DAS to have a smooth transition. As is, we are ready to carry out ground handling by ourselves. Once we get approval from UCAA, we’ll roll it out,” he says, adding that their ground-handling operations manuals have already been approved by UCAA.
He adds that they have a Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with various companies including DAS so that they get the necessary help and support in time in case the need arises.
To prove Uganda Airlines’ readiness to roll out the self-handling project, Ouma took our reporter through a guided tour of the already procured equipment at Entebbe International Airport that will help in the successful implementation of the project.
Key state-of-the-art equipment already procured include ground power units, unit load devices, air start units, passenger stairs (boarding stairs/steps), potable water unitss, conveyor belts, lavatory servicing truck (used to remove waste from the aircraft), Trolleys (used to move cargo to the aircraft), high loaders, push back/tow truck and tow bars among other equipment.
Ouma says each brand new equipment costs an average of US$250,000.
“The equipment is expensive but worth the investment in the long run,” he says.
He adds that hiring one Ground Power Unit and Air Start Unit costs about US$300 and US$700 per hour respectively.
Asked about the cost of setting up facilities for self-handling recently, Ephraim Bagenda, the Director of Engineering and Maintenance at Uganda Airlines, said the total investment is US$2.5m-inclusive of recruitment and training of staff.
Ouma reveals that the airline has already ordered for two passenger buses that are used to transport passengers from the aircraft to the terminal and vice-versa.
He says a workshop van has also been ordered for mobility purposes.
“We have requisitioned for an ambulant that will help move/transport Passengers with Reduced Mobility (PRM),” he says.
Ouma adds that the supplier of the equipment has also offered after-sales services to Uganda Airlines.
Currently, there are only two ground-handling companies at Entebbe International Airport; DAS and Entebbe Handling Services (ENHAS), currently trading as NAS. This means that Uganda Airlines will be the third company to offer such services at Uganda’s only international airport.
Uganda Airlines joins other successful airlines that have embraced self ground-handling including Emirates, KLM, SAS (Scandinavian Airlines), Lufthansa, Ethiopian, Kenya Airways and RwandAir.
The self-handling project is one of the many initiatives Jenifer Bamuturaki, the newly confirmed substantive CEO of Uganda Airlines, is implementing to make the national carrier a world-class airline.
Bamuturaki is keen to implement cost-cutting measures and create more revenue-generating avenues for the nascent carrier
Ouma says as Uganda Airlines opens up more routes, more equipment for ground handling will be procured.
He adds that the opening up of more routes means that the national carrier will have to procure more aircraft, especially medium-range ones.
Uganda Airlines currently operates a fleet of four (4) CRJ900 and two (2) Airbus A330-800neo.
Uganda Airlines started commercial operations in August 2019.
Despite COVID-19 disruptions, the national carrier carried 154,245 passengers in 2021 compared to 93,780 in 2019 and 2020 combined.
The National Carrier has expanded its network to 11 destinations since its inception.
However, according to the airline’s business plan, in the second year of operation, the National Carrier had planned to have 18 and four (4) regional and international routes respectively, but this couldn’t be possible due to COVID-19 effects.
Pictorial Of Preparations On Ground