Uganda Airlines selection of the A330neo for its medium and long-haul operations, caps a long relationship between the European airframer and Africa. Since the launch of its first commercial aircraft programme at the Paris Air Show in the summer of 1969 and the entry into service of the A300B with Air France in May 1974, Airbus had by July this year, logged 289 commercial aircraft orders on the continent. At least 244 of these were in service with more 37 operators. In all, 45 A330’s across all variants have been ordered by African airlines.
Globally, Airbus has received orders for slightly more than 20,410 commercial aircraft in the 48 years since its first aircraft took to the air. Some 432 airlines operate Airbus aircraft in the world. Today’s delivery to Uganda Airlines marks an unprecedented presence in East Africa for the manufacturer, who now has aircraft on the registers of Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and now Uganda.
East Africa has also been a first for Airbus on a number of occasions. Just like Uganda Airlines was the first in Africa commit to the A330-800, in 1986, Kenya Airways was the launch customer in Africa for the Airbus A310-300. In 2013, Ethiopian Airlines was the launch customer on the continent for the world-beating A350-900. In February 2019, Tanzania became the first African Airline to fly Airbus’s all new narrowbody A220.
Historically, Egypt Air has been the biggest operator of Airbus aircraft with orders totaling 60. It is followed by South African Airways at 52, Tunis Air 30, Ethiopian 22, Libyan Airlines 17 and Air Mauritius 13. Air Senegal and Air Algeria have each ordered 10 aircraft. Airbus’ rising profile on the continent comes at a time when Africa has discovered the merits of modern aircraft. Until the 2000s Africa was married to old preowned aircraft that proved expensive and difficult to maintain.
Back then, mainly poorly managed government owned airlines regarded new aircraft as pricey. But the sharp rise in fuel prices in the first years of the new millennium and the changing competition landscape, have awakened both private and government operators to the advantages of new aircraft. Besides burning less fuel, new aircraft have lower operating and maintenance costs.
The change in fleet choices has been noticed by aircraft manufacturers who are now running neck to neck in a number on sales campaigns on the continent. Because of its immense potential, the Nigerian market is of particular interest and Airbus has been pitching their products to operators in the west African Market.