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Victoria International Airlines (VIA) Uganda said last week that it had been forced to suspend its flight operations until further notice because of the poor performance of its on-line booking device in Kenya and Uganda.

"As a selling tool we have found it to be slow and travel agents are still unable to issue tickets. As a result our projected passenger uplifts have fallen short of our expectations," a statement from the one-month old airline reads in part.

VIA took to the skies on a maiden flight that took it to Nairobi on November 30, 2006, following a communication glitch between Uganda and Kenya over landing rights to Uganda's flag carrier.

The airline's selling efforts have been hampered by the poor performance of its distribution system.

The airline chose an on-line booking proposition via the Internet in order to keep its costs down, ultimately allowing the airline to offer lower fares than any of its competitors.

"We are extremely disappointed with the performance of our on-line booking device particularly in Kenya and Uganda," the company statement said.

"It does not make commercial sense to continue flying if our customers find it difficult and time-consuming to book a seat on the airline. There is no doubt that they will choose an easier alternative."

An industry source who preferred anonymity told Business Week that the distribution system of an airline can only hamper its sales when it fails to work. "VIA chose that system but it was not ideal for them," said this industry player.

Now the airline has to either select another on-line booking engine or the more costly option of being distributed through one of the Global Distribution Systems (GDS) like Galileo or Amadeus. Signing up to any of the two distribution systems offers an airline opportunities of selling themselves through agents in the air travel business. "You don't sell yourself optimally when you chose an online platform," said the industry source.

East African Business Week