A distinctive Uganda Airlines Airbus A330 caught the attention of planespotters late last week when it operated an unusual charter flight from Entebbe to Seattle via Keflavik. The 8,832 mile (14,214 kilometers) globe-spanning trip took 18 plus hours to complete before factoring in the time spent on the ground in Keflavik.
Uganda Airlines’ A330 medical charter to Seattle
It wasn’t only the unusual route that registered on people’s radar. Uganda Airlines operates the relatively unusual A330-800. The airline has two of them, and mid-evening on Thursday, February 3, 5X-NIL Mt Elgon pushed back at Entebbe for the 5,205 mile (8,376 kilometers) flight north to Iceland.
After flying for nearly 11 hours, the Airbus touched down in Keflavik in time for breakfast the next day. The jet spent around four hours on the ground there before taking off for Seattle. Flying time across to Seattle was seven and a half hours, with 5X-NIL landing before lunchtime on Friday.
The pair of A330-800s are new to Uganda Airlines and so far have mostly stuck to flying between Entebbe and Dubai. It’s not every day a Uganda Airlines aircraft makes it as far as Keflavik or Seattle.
Uganda Airlines Chief Executive officer Jenifer Bamuturaki Ugandan media the plane was told operating a charter flight. She didn’t say who was on the flight, but local media pointed to the Ugandan Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanya. Uganda’s Independent newspaper reports Mr Oulanya traveled to the United States for medical treatment.
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Uganda Airlines struggles to keep its two A330s busy
5X-NIL arrived at Uganda Airlines in December 2020. Its sibling A330-800, 5X-CRN Mt Rwenzorifirst landed in Entebbe in January 2021. The current iteration of Uganda Airlines dates back to 2019. An earlier version of the airline, also called Uganda Airlines, flew from 1977 to 2001.
With COVID-19 just around the corner, 2019 was an unlucky time to launch a new airline. By the end of 2019, the government-owned airline was flying to eight central and Southern Africa destinations. But by April 2020, Uganda Airlines had ceased operating passenger services for six months.
By the end of 2020, the airline was back in the air and eyeing flying further afield. Those ambitions coincided with the arrival of the two widebody Airbus jets. Much-touted flights between Entebbe and Heathrow have failed to take off, but flights to Dubai began in October 2021.
Uganda Airlines has a pair of Airbus A330-800 aircraft. Photo: Airbus
However, flying to Dubai four times a week isn’t enough to keep the two A330-800s busy. Ms Bamuturaki says charters like the Seattle flight help keep the two planes busy. Beyond London, the Uganda Airlines CEO is keen to see flights to Europe, India, and Asia.
“We are also looking at points in the Democratic Republic of Congo, West Africa, and the Middle East,Ms Bamuturaki recently told Uganda’s Business Focus magazine.
Those London flights, which have failed to take off despite 18 months of talk, are now scheduled to start mid-year. Ms Bamuturaki attributes the latest delay to Brexit regulations. The airline has locked in slots at Heathrow but is waiting for UK aviation authorities to issue Uganda Airlines’ Foreign Carrier Permit.
Meanwhile, 5X-NIL remains on the ground in Seattle.
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