President Yoweri Museveni has intervened in the Uganda Airlines saga after the launch date was pushed back by a further two months, thus from April to June 2019.
Sources say President Museveni called for a meeting in an attempt to heal a widening rift between the airline’s interim board and the implementation team as it is stalling progress.
Initially slated to launch in April, the carrier’s start date has now been pushed to June, after key milestones such as securing an Air Operators Certificate (AOC) — which is contingent on having key post holders in place — were missed.
Five in total, the key posts, which include chief pilot, director of operations and director of maintenance, are responsible for compliance with the terms of the AOC at the airline level.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) cannot issue an AOC in the absence of those office holders and in turn an aircraft cannot be registered to the airline unless it holds an AOC.
This has impacted aircraft delivery and, at one point, registering them under the government’s name was considered as a stopgap measure.
The EastAfrican has learnt that initial slots for training pilots at manufacturer Bombardier’s facility in Montreal, Canada, were missed and new slots are now being sought at alternative facilities in the US and Europe.
Uganda Airlines will need 36 pilots for its four Bombardier jets and training slots had been secured for September, October and November.
Talk of a revised launch date was confirmed by Chief Executive of Uganda Airlines Ephraim Bagenda last week.
Speaking at a press conference at the Ministry of Works and Transport on Wednesday, Mr Bagenda said the launch of commercial services had been moved from April to June.
Delivery of aircraft was scheduled to start this month, with the first handover of a CRJ 900 jet now pushed to February 23. This will be followed by others in March, July and September.
Sources say that, embarrassed by the prospect of idle aircraft parked at the Entebbe International Airport, the interim board wanted to defer delivery to a later date — since they are being blamed for occasioning the delays in the project.
The move was opposed by the management team, which was concerned about the high demurrage costs if the aircraft were to be kept at the manufacturer’s facilities.
The delays are being blamed on the interim board — which is made up mostly of by civil servants — missing targets such as recruitment and training of pilots, and installing key position holders.
Although September 2018 was the deadline for concluding recruitment, the 10-man board is being accused of laxity after interviewing only four candidates in a day.
While the management team wanted the board to only interview for the top positions, they have insisted on interviewing for all cadres of workers.
Although the interviews for all positions were completed, delays have been occasioned by the need to have pilots validated and security clearances obtained.
Validation was done in Nairobi, but security vetting has not been completed for pilots and other key positions.
The delays are proving to be frustrating and, now, sources say a highly billed candidate who had been headhunted from the US for a technical position has instead been poached by the CAA.
A concerned Bombardier, which has had to seek new training slots at facilities in the USA and France for the Uganda Airlines pilots, has in recent weeks also put pressure on the implementation team, calling for weekly meetings to track the progress on the aircraft delivery matrix.
Efforts to reach interim board chair Captain Gad Gasatura were unsuccessful.
Separately, the implementation team achieved a key milestone when the MoU signed with Airbus for two A330-800Neos last June was converted into a firm commitment at the end of December.
“The MoU was due to expire on December 23 and we were told that if we did not make a commitment by that date, we would lose an $800,000 deposit and there would also be cost escalation,” said a source familiar with the matter.
Delivery slots would also have been missed. The government is understood to have made top-up payments towards the purchase last month, but we could not establish the amount.
Airbus released its 2018 sales and production figures on January 9, but the Uganda Airlines order is not reflected.
Airbus declined to comment on the purchase, only saying, “We are making good progress towards concluding that transaction.”