Uganda Airlines has Monday launched its maiden flight to the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as it readies to establish scheduled flights to the Gulf nation later this year.
The national carrier is carrying 200 Muslim citizens making the trip for the Hajj pilgrimage aboard its 258 capacity Airbus A330 aircraft.
“We have had our maiden flight to Jeddah, and this is the first time it has happened in 40 years. It is a very historic moment for the country and us as an airline,” Uganda Airlines chief executive officer Jennifer Bamuturaki said.
Ms Bamuturaki added that another 250 passengers would be flown to Jeddah on Tuesday.
Ugandan Muslim pilgrims have in the past been forced to connect through other countries for their pilgrimage, making the journey long, expensive and tedious.
Hajj is an at least once-in-a-lifetime obligation for all able-bodied Muslims of financial means to make. Some two to three million people participate in the six-day ritual annually.
About 50 Ugandans heading to Mecca were stranded at the Khartoum airport when the deadly Sudan war pitting generals broke out in April.
According to Ms Bamuturaki, the airline plans to establish scheduled flights between Uganda and Saudi Arabia by September this year.
“The operator’s permit that we currently have will go up to July next year and we shall extend it to July (the year after). On our scheduled flights, we have a plan to start flying to Jeddah in September and we shall be doing three flights a week,” she said.
Currently, the airline flies regional routes –Nairobi and Mombasa in Kenya, South Sudan capital Juba, Kinshasa in DR Congo, and Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. It also flies to Mogadishu, Somalia and Bujumbura in Burundi.