Regional carriers Air Tanzania, Uganda Airlines and RwandAir are growing by leaps and bounds and eating away at the market share of East Africa's leading carriers Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways as they struggle with financial and political instability.

Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda carriers in expansion mode

This was evident at the recently concluded 2021 Dubai Air Show, where Uganda Airlines and Air Tanzania signed deals that prepare them for the battle for the skies with Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways. They signed aircraft and spare parts supply deals with leading manufacturers Airbus and Boeing to ensure seamless services in the region and beyond.

In the meantime, RwandAir has signed a codeshare agreement with Qatar Airways that allows the Kigali-based airline to use the Qatari carrier's huge network to bring competition right to the doorsteps of ET and KQ. The falling fortunes of Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines come amid a financial squeeze, which has seen KQ survive on government bailout, while the Addis-based carrier has lately gone into an austerity regime. 

The change in fortunes has seen the Ugandan, Tanzania and Rwandan national carriers, backed by the state, shift their models to expansion, both on aircraft and routes, as they seek to pick up business lost by their bigger, older rivals, and set up their own hubs.

Kenya Airways has nine Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners and Ethiopian has more than 20. But the Tanzanian government, which owns one, is ramping up the competition. On Wednesday, Dodoma placed a $726 million order of four Boeing freighters and passenger jets to boost the airline's capacity.