Entebbe International Airport is making good progress on expansion. The airport is still waiting on a new cargo center that should be ready next year, which will be able to handle 100,000 metric tonnes of cargo.
ENTEBBE – Last month, I had the chance to sit down for an interview with the head of Public Relations for Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA), Vianney Luggya. With the (re)launch of Uganda Airlines, it was a great opportunity to find out how this government organization intends to shape Uganda’s aviation future.
I sat down with Mr. Luggya, at his office at Entebbe International Airport. Here’s what I learned from speaking with him:
Entebbe International Airport is making good progress on expansion. The airport is still waiting on a new cargo center that should be ready next year, which will be able to handle 100,000 metric tonnes of cargo. Last year, Entebbe International Airport handled 62,000 metric tonnes of cargo but expects this to increase in the coming years.
As for passengers, a new terminal facility is scheduled to be completed at the end of 2021 or the beginning of 2022. This new terminal will have three air bridges – adding to the two at the current facility.
Currently, Entebbe International Airport has the capacity to handle two million passengers per year. As the airport just recorded 1.84 million passengers last year, it is nearing capacity. This was made quite clear with my flight out of the country with lengthy lines at security and immigration checkpoints. However, after upgrades and expansion the airport will be able to handle 3.5 million passengers per year.
Furthermore, Luggya reports that the second runway is at 94% completion. This will serve as an alternative should an incident occur on the main runway. Taxiways are also being improved to accommodate more traffic and the connect to the new cargo facility.
Sources of growth
A number of factors contribute to growth. Tourism brings in the largest number of passengers says Luggya.
“Uganda’s tourism potential is so high. Lately there have been many efforts to promote Uganda’s tourism potential.”
He continues by mentioning how the country has a large gorilla population attracting tourists. Interestingly, international and national conferences add a lot of passenger traffic to Entebbe as well. Conferences include faith groups, meetings between heads of state, and more.
Ugandans leaving for employment abroad – particularly in the Middle East – is also a large factor, as is Chinese business. This contributes a portion of passenger traffic – although this is more significant for cargo traffic. In the last decade, exports from China have flooded the East African market which has been evident in my travels through Kenya and Tanzania as well.
Uganda Airlines coming online
It is expected that Uganda Airlines will bring more traffic in and out of the airport. Although a very small fleet of two Bombardier CRJ aircraft at the moment, the CAA has high hopes for the national airline. One of the hopes is that transit traffic will increase with the growth of the carrier.
The airline recently completed its maiden flight to Nairobi on August 27th. With London being one of the most popular destinations from Entebbe, its possible we would see the airline’s future A330neo fly the route.
Potential challenges to growth
Luggya named several factors that put Ugandan aviation at risk. Firstly, he acknowledged that the growth of Ugandan aviation infrastructure is dependent on financing. At the moment, China is the largest source of funding. Funding for the first phase has been secured, but looking a few years into the future, there is a little more uncertainty.
Intermodal transport and the free flow of goods is another challenge that exists. Access to Entebbe International Airport is mainly by road. The CAA wishes to diversify transportation options as Entebbe is located on the shores of Lake Victoria – Africa’s largest lake. Building rail infrastructure would also ease the burden on Uganda’s highways. “We need a situation where the airport is linked by rail, water, and road,” Luggya says.
I had noticed stacks of UN-labelled containers, small white turboprops and a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-130 on the tarmac with a large UN decal on the side. I inquired about all of this United Nations equipment scattered across the area. Luggya responded by saying that in 2017 the airport handled 69,000 metric tonnes of cargo – the all-time high. This dropped to 62,000 the following year. This reduction occurred at the same time that there was a decrease in UN Operations which, he says, is a sign of just how much traffic the United Nations bring to Entebbe.
Collaboration over competition
When asked about competing with bigger airports like Nairobi or Addis Ababa, Luggya said that the UCAA was aiming more for a spirit of cooperation. This, he says, is necessary because there must be mutual support in situations where emergencies occur at one airport and runways are shut down:
“We are looking more at collaboration. We have a lot in common as we continue to work together – we can benefit from each other.”
He recalls one past event where the Entebbe runway had to be shut down and flights were diverted to neighboring airports. Increased connectivity between Africa’s hubs will benefit all travelers with more choice. Entebbe hopes to capitalize on that and be an additional option.
There are numerous flights to Nairobi daily with Kenya Airways. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying
The importance of Uganda CAA
Finally, Luggya spoke about the importance of his organization in the safety and security of air travel in Uganda. There was mention of progress made with the Ugandan Government in shaping laws and regulations around the CAA’s ability to randomly inspect air operators at its facilities. Prior to this, permission from the air operator had to be obtained.
Finally, Luggya was proud that the CAA was able to resist public pressure to rush the issuance of an Air Operators Certificate for Ugandan Airlines. In resisting this pressure, the CAA was able to ensure that the newly re-launched airline was in full compliance in terms of safety and security – even though some of the new aircraft had already been delivered. In April, the two CRJ-900s were delivered – but only saw their first flights at the end of August.
We wish to thank Mr. Vianney Luggya for taking the time to sit down with us and give us some insight into Uganda’s civil aviation scene.
This story is courtesy of Simple Flying