The Daredevils Of Our Time

Each time I take to the sky, I find myself thinking and remembering all the pilots, flight engineers and flight attendants known to me; alive or dead. In June I had to travel to London at short notice. It gave me the opportunity to fly by Emirates for the first time. For the two decades I have lived and worked in Botswana, I flew to Europe from Johannesburg by Virgin Atlantic, South Africa Airways and once by Kenya Airways.In the 80s I flew to London most of the time by the then Uganda Airlines. I enjoyed the flights and was well looked after so I only need to step on the plane to jog my memory for the faces and names of all those pilots and the hostesses whom I had come to know well. They include: late Steven Walusimbi, late Sam Kadama, late Adrew Kaggwa, late Sam Mwanje, captain Roy, captain Tamale, captain Kikwabanga, Engineer Jack Alecho and Chief stewardess Serunjogi , and Bakabulinde, Betty Kigguba, Harriet Sentongo, late Grace Achan and many others. They were all true professionals and made us proud to be Ugandans as they flew our National Carrier.

Up to today, I rate the pilot’s capability to take off and land smoothly based on what is locked in my memory. I find myself saying: “You were so good and you enjoyed immensely what you were doing. For you it had ceased to be work and was just fun.” I also remind myself that it was the East African Airways Dakota that carried Princess Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh from Nanyuki, Kenya, to Entebbe to board a BOAC flight to London in February 1952 after the sudden death of King George V1. The Princess was later enthroned as Queen Elizabeth 11 of the United Kingdom on 2nd June 1953.
Many of these dedicated flight crew and cabin crew had initially worked with the East African Airways which was dissolved when the East African Economic Community collapsed in 1977.Thereafter, each of the three states formed its own National Carrier: Uganda Airlines Corporation, Kenya Airways and Air Tanzania.
Uganda Airline Corporation was founded in 1976, became operational in 1977. It was fully owned by the Uganda government. It flourished for some years but by 1995 it had started limping. It finally collapsed and was liquidated in 2001. From the little I know, it failed due to poor management resulting from political interference, chronic lack of capital, increased competition and the loss of experienced staff.

Like the soldiers on the frontline, all those workers in the air transport industry live with the constant risks and hazards of the occupation. Sadly, on October 17th 1988, a Ugandan passenger jet, a Boeing 707, crashed near the Leonardo de Vinci Airport just outside Rome! It had originated from London and was travelling to Entebbe Interanational Airport,Uganda, via Rome. There was fog around the airport. Thirty one of the people aboard died in the crash. Captain Steven Walusimbi was its pilot while Captain Andrew Kaggwa  was the co-pilot. Among the passengers that lived to tell the story was Prince John Patrick Barigye of Ankole. Later as he narrated how he survived the crash, I learned from him to always pay attention to the Safety instructions or video especially about identifying all the Exists on the plane.

I was very privileged to attend Captain Steven Walusimbi’s funeral in Entebbe but sadly missed that of captain Andrew Kaggwa, a great friend of my late brother. Late Kaggwa’s body was whisked off straight for burial in Mubende,western Uganda. I failed to connect with his relatives.
As if that was not enough, I also lost a neighbor at work in the same crash: the late Henry Obonyo from Tororo,eastern Uganda. He was a humble and a decent human being working as the Manager of the Uganda Army shop in Mengo. May God continue to rest all those people in eternal peace.

Fast – Forward to June 2018, the whispers of relaunching a National Carrier for Uganda were confirmed by the Minister of Finance, Planning and Economic Development, as he read the 2018/2019 Budget. Two Air buses A330-200s have already been ordered and if all goes well, the National Carrier could be operational by the end of the year!
All those who care enough know why the Uganda Airlines Corporation collapsed and that the environment has changed very little.
Edmund Burke said: “In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”
We all need to learn hard lessons from the past not to repeat it.

In my naivety, I am aware that running an airline is a highly complex and demanding job and at the same time I know that the wisest among us always learn from others’ mistakes and experiences. I hope that by now we have already sent a team to Ethiopia to learn from them. Ethiopian Airlines has now been running for 72 years and is often called The Pride of Africa. It is the prime airline in Africa: flying to 90 destinations, providing excellent air transport services all the time. It surprises many people by its efficiency, continued growth from strength to strength and has been consistently profitable and consistently improving in service standards. It is Africa’s largest carrier. The same team should also bench mark with Kenya Airways which in 2015 and 2016 made substantial losses but since then has struggled to improve as by the end of 2017. South African Airways is still struggling to raise its head.

Those of us who believe in the principle of Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for Greatest Number would have preferred to see the limited resources used to improve the ailing health care system, education system and agriculture sector which supports over 70 percent of the population.
Colin Powell, an American statesman, retired four-star general in the US army and 65th US Secretary of State said: “A dream does not become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.’’
Coach Bridget Burns said: “If you think you know everything, there’s nothing else to learn until you learn….. you do n’t know everything.”
As for the original flight crews and cabin crews of the defunct Uganda Airlines Corporation, I take off my hat to you. Your service record remains a source of pride and joy to us. I still call you the daredevils of our time: avid air enthusiasts, organized, dedicated and with great concern for the safety of your passengers and machines. You were among the best of your time so I had to share you with the world. I have no doubt that during this technology –driven era, you would be even better.

Thank you for visiting my blog and reading this post. I am interested in learning about your experiences with air transport. I would be grateful if you commented on this post and shared it with family and friends.

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