At least 81 passengers have today flown aboard the maiden Uganda Airlines' flight to Dubai.
The 259-capacity Airbus A330-800 Neo aircraft left Entebbe international airport after 12:18 pm on Monday, with 76 passengers in economy and five others flying business class.
The flight to Dubai was initially scheduled to take place at an earlier date but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic which came with travel restrictions and low demand for aviation services.
Today's flight was flagged off by the state minister for Transport, Fred Byamukama, making it the first commercial flight of the revived Uganda Airlines out of Africa. The national flag carrier has been operating routes in Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, and Tanzania since 2019, when the airline was relaunched.
Captain Steven Wegoye, the interim director of safety at Uganda Airlines says the commencement of the flight to and from Dubai is a milestone because it is the first international route that the airline will operate. The airline is expected to commence flights to London next month, Guangzhou and Mumbai next year.
"So we will fly twice a week to Dubai until the route picks up, where 50 per cent of the total seats are booked," Wegoye said, "But we expect to fly three times a week."
Byamukama urged Ugandans to use the airline because it is operating direct flights to Dubai at an affordable price. The airline charged $419 (Shs 1.5 million) for the maiden flight - below the $500 (Shs 1.8 million) charged by Emirates and Flydubai for the same route.
Meanwhile, the government is optimistic that the Dubai route will boost tourism numbers and cargo exports for flowers, tea, cocoa, minerals, and other items to the Middle East and the Gulf region. Patrick Ocailap, the deputy permanent secretary of ministry of Finance says the direct flights to Dubai, about 5 and half hours, are a great deal for businesspeople, tourists and migrant workers.
According to the ministry of Foreign Affairs, trade between Uganda and the United Arab Emirates has grown significantly since 2009 when the two countries established diplomatic relations. For instance, exports from Uganda to the UAE increased from $300 million in 2009 to $1.9 billion in 2020.
During the same period, investment figures rose from $150 million to over $800 million while remittances from the UAE currently stand at $200 million.
The launch of the Dubai flight coincides with the ongoing Dubai Trade Expo in the UAE which will run for six months ending March 2022 and Uganda is marketing itself as a tourist and investment destination.