Newly appointed Uganda Airlines CEO Jennifer Bamuturaki has vindicated her appointing authority by rolling out a Shs11bn project which will save Ugandans Shs11.3bn the national carrier has been spending on contracted ground-handling services.
The frugal piece of business dubbed ‘Jennifer’s pet project’ was revealed by Uganda Airlines Duty Manager Derrick Ouma. According to Ouma, the new investment — which has been ongoing during the time Bamuturaki has been acting CEO — was undertaken to build capacity for self-handling services. This was upon realization that outsourced handling services were bleeding the baby airline of much-needed revenue.
“Currently DAS provides us with ground handling services but at a very high cost. We therefore decided to build capacity and do self-handling,” Ouma said.
According to Ouma, self-handling will not only cut costs at Uganda airlines but will also enhance passengers’ 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,” said Ouma, adding that the plan is to commence the self-handling services this August, with just a few clearance modalities being finalized by Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA).
During a recent press briefing, Ephraim Bagenda, the UA Director Engineering and Maintenance, disclosed that the national carrier currently spends US$250,000 (about Shs944.6m) per month on contracted maintenance and ground-handling operations. This is majorly because hiring one Ground Power Unit and Air Start Unit costs about US$300 and US$700 per hour respectively, making it an annual spend of 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. Bagenda added that the project’s total investment is US$2.5m-inclusive of recruitment and training of staff.
In a recent media briefing, Shakila Rahim Lamar, the Airline’s Corporate Affairs & Public Relations Manager revealed that self-handling will enable the Airline to cut 60% of its operating costs.
A WORTHY INVESTMENT
Ouma says that concerns of the project investment being very costly should be allayed by projections which show that every bit of equipment procurement will be worth every penny in the long run.
“For instance, each brand new equipment costs an average of US$250,000; however, much as it seems very expensive, it will be worth the investment in the long run,” he says.
The biggest plus is that the new project is essentially another revenue stream for the Airline and will turn Uganda Airlines into the third ground handling company in the country on top of DAS and ENHAS.
“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.
Already in its advanced stages, 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 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.
Key state-of-the-art equipment already procured include ground power units, unit load devices, air start unit, passenger stairs (boarding stairs/steps), potable water unit, 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 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 ambulift 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.
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 the medium range ones.
ABOUT GROUND HANDLING
Ouma explains 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 adds 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.
Explaining further what ground-handling entails, Ouma said it includes below and above the wing operations.
Below the wing operations covers 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. 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 national carrier 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 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 the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.