Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is hoping to secure funds from Uganda’s government, the African Development Bank and World Bank in May 2019, to start the upgrading of five airfields in different parts of the country.
Uganda is seeking to revive its national carrier and boost its local air travel to when the country renovates airfields to increase capacity for domestic flights.
The fund is intended to address concerns among local aviation companies and tour operators, who have repeatedly voiced frustrations at the poor quality of air transport infrastructure citing it as one of the biggest hindrances to the progress of Uganda’s inland flights.
“We are looking at creating an enabling environment, which is largely in terms of infrastructure. When you create better airfields, you are facilitating local flights,” said Vianney Luggya, CAA public affairs manager.
Four years ago, CAA launched a 20-year masterplan from 2014 to 2033 that will see the expansion of Entebbe International Airport and the upgrading of several other airfields to promote local and international flights in the wake of swelling traveller numbers and the revival of the national carrier.
Uganda has more than 20 airfields, 12 of which are run by the CAA while the rest are privately owned. These, however, are in poor state with no equipment, bad murram runways, while some have been abandoned.
Uganda barely compares with its East African peers Kenya and Tanzania, which have over time developed a robust inland aviation infrastructure.
While Uganda has scheduled local flights, these are few in number, expensive and serve only a limited destination.
Three of the airfields — Arua in the West Nile region, Kasese in the west and Gulu in the north — will be upgraded to international level while the rest will be renovated.
“We have acquired land in Kasese and Arua, and engineering designs and masterplans for those planned for international upgrade are in place,” Mr Luggya said.
It is estimated that Kasese airfield, which is critical for tourism in western Uganda, will cost $176 million while that in Gulu — the northern Uganda business hub — will cost $200 million.
Local aviation companies have often complained about the poor state of the infrastructure of airstrips as the main reason hindering opening up of new routes, as well as imposing high maintenance and operation costs.
The government is also expanding the Entebbe airport and constructing a new one at Kabaale in the oil-rich Hoima district.
With these developments, aviation sector players say that it needs to develop systems that will enable local flights feed off the national carrier, reduce transport time, support the oil industry and promote tourism.
Sceptics, however, argue that with the country’s majority poor barely able to afford air transport, the aviation industry is still unattractive to investors.
“People have invested in buses because our economy is at the bus level: most people travel by bus,” said Capt Francis Babu, a retired pilot.
Local flights in Uganda remain a preserve of the privileged few as a trip from Entebbe to Arua costs $150, and only $8 by bus.
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