Wednesday 10th of February 2016 01:22:29 AM

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Growing traffic tests Entebbe Airport

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In the 20-30 minutes I spent at Entebbe Airport on November 2, between 5– 6.00 o’clock, two landed. The amount of flight traffic at the airport has grown so significantly over the past 5 years and with the entry of new airlines on the Entebbe route over the past year, industry players worry that it is straining the modest space and facilities at the airport and may compromise safety.

“We are already constrained with traffic growth,” Civil Aviation Authority’s Public Relations Manager, Ignie Igundura, said. “Parking space for aircrafts, cars and space for cargo handling is getting smaller every day.”

Igundura said growing demand for flights and the desire for increased revenue mean that CAA cannot turn away new operators, in spite of its concerns about rising pressure on the airport.

Entebbe Airport currently hosts 21 scheduled passenger airlines and 4 cargo airlines. Of these 4 – Qatar Airlines, Rwanda Air, Turkish Airlines and Gulf Air [launching on Dec. 6], all for passengers - were launched on the route in the past year.

Passenger traffic has increased from 720,000 passengers in 2007 to 930,000 in 2009, 1 million in 2010, and an estimated 1.5million in 2011. The number of commercial aircraft landing and taking off at the airport has grown from 5600 in December 1991 to 23,000 in December 2010.

Igundura said since all airlines had based their entry on sound market research about Entebbe regarding traffic, safety, integrity of the airport, performance of the national economy, among others, there was no worry that the business might be insufficient for them.

Igundura said even inflationary pressures (now at 30.5 percent) and slowed growth, while said to have scared off-shore investors, had not deterred new airlines from entry.

“Most airlines look at the future. This economy will not stay like this, I am sure it will improve with time as the country starts real production of oil,” Igundura said.

An airline official said congestion at the airport was dangerous and could tarnish Uganda’s image as a travel destination.

“We need more visitors from abroad, and more investors. There is no way Uganda would attract these without good infrastructure, starting with the airport,” the official said.

Oil growth

Qatar Airline’s Chief Executive Officer, Akbar Al Baker, said his airline had entered the Uganda market because it is politically stable and is headed for greater growth with the oil development.

“I am extremely confident Entebbe will be as successful as our other destinations in Africa, and will further strengthen our position across the continent where we now operate to 16 cities from Doha,” Al Baker said.

Al Baker said Uganda’s economy is growing fast and attracting more tourists. “We are here for business and we know oil discovery will boost the economy soon,” he said.

Experts say oil investments, and the growing volume of business in the region, including tourism, is contributing to fast growth of air traffic as investors, tourists and businesspeople seek the convenience of air travel to seek opportunities.

CAA Managing Director Rama Makuza said they expect passenger and cargo traffic to keep rising as the economy grows, especially if refinery of aviation fuel starts to be done locally once an oil refinery is set up. This would attract even more airlines to Entebbe.

Heavy import of jet fuel contributes up to 40 percent of the total operational cost of airlines, which is reflected in high passenger and cargo fees, Igundura said.

CAA is working on a master plan to expand the airport and provide more space for packing, cargo handling and other services. An aircraft maintenance centre will also be set up

“We will unveil this in the nearby future. It is part of our ptoject to beautify the airport and improve services,” Igundura said.

Igundura said new airlines would break the monopoly of the older ones and possibly help improve services and reduce fares.

First constructed in 1928/1929, Entebbe International Airport is located on the shores of Lake Victoria, about 35 km (22 miles) from the capital, Kampala. CAA was created by an Act of Parliament in 1994 as a state agency under the Ministry of Transport, Housing and Communication, to coordinate and oversee Uganda’s aviation industry.

Growing traffic at the airport provides a challenge for the agency’s ability to meet increased demand with the appropriate infrastructure and governance investments to balance growing revenue with improved safety and standards.

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