Uganda Airlines clarifies amidst crew overworking claims

Uganda Airlines CEO Ms. Janifer Bamuturaki

Uganda Airlines CEO Ms. Janifer Bamuturaki

Following significant flight disruptions in December 2023, Uganda Airlines CEO, Jenifer Bamuturaki, has emphasized the carrier’s commitment to international aviation regulations, refuting allegations that the national airline is overworking flight crew. Uganda Airlines passengers endured significant flight disruptions during the peak December 2023 travel period, as the carrier struggled to cope with crew shortages on its regional busy CRJ fleet.

Speaking at a senior management retreat in Munyonyo Kampala on Saturday, Bamuturaki addressed concerns over crew shortages, saying the airline has been forced to delay flights and cancel others in adherence to safety protocols.

“While we had the aircraft, we did not have the pilots. In order not to burst safety margins with the available crew roster, we had to sacrifice the schedule, which resulted in frequent flight delays or postponements during December,” she explained.

Bamuturaki, alongside flight operations head David Kaweesa and compliance head Michael Kaliisa, refuted allegations of overworking flight crew, citing stringent regulatory requirements and internal controls.

In an apparent social media smear campaign last week, a letter purported authored by pilots claimed that the airline was working flight crew for as long as 17 consecutive days without a break.

Kaweesa outlined the carrier’s scheduling practices, highlighting a maximum of five consecutive working days followed by two days of rest for flight crew. “That is not true and cannot happen because regulatory requirements and our own internal controls,” said Kaweesa.

The airline’s loss of eight expatriate pilots in the last quarter of 2023 added operational pressures, prompting a reduction in flight schedules and a pause on expansion plans. Despite ongoing efforts to recruit new pilots, challenges persist, with only a fraction of candidates passing rigorous assessments.

To streamline crew management and ensure compliance, Uganda Airlines has introduced the Laminar Crew Management System, automating scheduling processes and enforcing safety protocols. Despite setbacks, the airline remains committed to upholding safety standards and delivering reliable services to passengers across its 13 destinations.

“We have a two-way check in that I’m not allowed to schedule someone out of the legal requirements and that officer should not accept any duty which is illegal. So, it is two ways, I am not allowed, and the officer is not allowed,” Kaweesa emphasized.

Uganda Airlines operates to 13 destinations using a fleet of six aircraft, including a pair of Airbus A330-800 neos and four CRJ900-LR for regional operations.

While efforts to recruit new pilots are ongoing and there are 12 in the pipeline, it has not been a smooth ride. In one of the intakes for flight crew, only 4 of 68 pilots interviewed passed the preliminary assessment, Kaweesa revealed, adding that the complaints could be castigated by candidates who failed to qualify in the recruitment process.

“We spend up to USD 40,000 to qualify a pilot on the CRJ. I cannot afford to take in pilots who will fail the last step because that would be a heavy cost and loss to the airline and the shareholders,” Kaweesa said as he explained the rigorous four-step process that candidates for pilot positions have to undergo.

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