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Highly-Controversial Venture

Defunct Victoria International Airline back on front page

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN Ambassador  Sep 18, 2009

The highly-controversial VIA is back in the Ugandan news, after a group of parliamentarians raised the apparently unauthorized capital injection made by the government in the amount of US$250,000 into the airline, which subsequently went belly up and failed to repay the money into the public coffers. The venture was from the very onset under scrutiny, first for the way the airline got its air services license – it was suggested in the media at the time that political influence peddling had superseded technical requirements by the CAA – and then over the airline’s distribution system, which left out the commonly-used GDS’ Amadeus and Galileo and prescribed Internet bookings at a time when Internet penetration in Uganda was still low and slow. This latter point in particular made many agents stay away from booking VIA, which ultimately proved too costly for the airline when they could not attract enough passengers and had to close down within weeks of taking to the skies.

Fingers are being pointed again in the latest front-page article by the Daily Monitor towards those in government at the time with a hand or alleged involvement with VIA, which already caused an outcry two years ago when the airline folded after only five weeks of operations, leaving passengers stranded in Johannesburg and Nairobi. One of the most ardent former supporters of the venture, the previous Minister of State for Investment in the Ministry of Finance Prof. Semakula - Kiwanuka, has since been appointed to the UAE as Uganda’s Ambassador and reportedly declined to comment to the media about his role at the time when the airline was licensed and started operations.

Meanwhile, the Uganda CAA washed its hands of VIA, having absorbed the performance bond of US$30,000 after the airline folded to meet accumulated rent, landing, parking, and navigation charges at the time the airline halted operations. VIA’s South African staff then made their way out of country and back home. A spokesperson of the CAA said, “We have not seen or heard from them ever since.”

Sources close to the CAA also confirmed that the VIA license was only issued upon high-level political pressure and instructions but would not have been given under normal circumstances at that time due to a number of open queries over the composition of the board, the available finances and operating capital, competences, and other related matters, i.e., not having registered any of its two leased B737-200 in Uganda.

Defunct Victoria International Airline back on front page
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