The Ugandan delegation to the regional parliament has informed the House that it will table a motion for the reestablishment of the East African Airlines.
Taking turns in a session on Thursday, the Ugandan members of the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), raised various concerns over why each member was having its own airline.
However, even before the motion is prepared and tabled, some quarters will be asking why suddenly the idea of the regional airline, which collapsed more 40 years ago, is such an attractive idea.
In 1946, the East African Airlines was established jointly run by Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. It was headquartered in Kenya. However, the airlines seized operations in 1978 amid regional tensions which led to collapse of the EAC.
Currently, the bloc has expanded to include Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. Rwanda has RwandAir, Tanzania got its Air Tanzania, Kenya has Kenya Airways, and Uganda with its Uganda Airlines.
The idea of discussing the regional airline in the session was brought up by the Ugandan delegation, backed by South Sudan.
“Even I saw a plane [at Bujumbura airport] Burundi will soon establish airline. Why don’t we revive East African Airlines, so that we can be able to attract [tourists] and income”, said Kennedy Mukulia, from South Sudan.
Uganda’s Denis Namara added: “Instead of marketing as a region, we are competing amongst ourselves. And because of that, we are losing out on marketing as a region, which would actually give us a comparative advantage.”
Fellow Ugandan lawmaker Rose Akol also said: “We fly Entebbe-Nairobi as an international route, and because its an international route, we have have to pay airport taxes.”
Another Ugandan Paul Musamali chipped in: “We have already instructed the [Counsel to the East African Community] and is already working on this motion for the establishment of the East African Airways.”
Like her Ugandan counterparts, Mary Mugyenyi also backed the idea, saying: ” It [will become] cheaper for people who come to east Africa as tourists. Even us…prefer flying our airlines, rather than flying other airlines.”
The new push by the Ugandan delegation adds momentum to their President’s call for the revival of the regional carrier.
In April this year, while relaunching Uganda Airlines, President Yoweri Museveni said: “My ideological orientation still believes we can have an EA airline if we amalgamate all national airlines. It partly explains why I delayed the revival of Uganda Airlines but our friends did not see this, some of them were discriminating against Ugandan travelers.”
However, as the geopolitical situation becomes ever more uncertain, with EAC neighbors in open conflict, it remains to be seen how the idea of a regional airline can work.
Before the current Rwanda-Uganda fallout, Uganda had reportedly refused to allow RwandAir flight to London from going through Entebbe Airport.
Cold relations between Rwanda and Burundi did affect operations of RwandAir for sometime during the first months after the 2015 failed coup in Burundi.