Uganda has the perfect mix to become a driving force of aviation in Africa. A large country linked by airports, in an economically diverse region and a government that believes in encouraging aircraft services.
Geographically, Uganda is in a right in the middle of Africa with some interesting neighbours. To the south, there is Rwanda, who has proclaimed their intent to become the next Singapore of Africa and has expansion plans for its international airline. To the north is Ethiopia, which operates the largest airline in Africa. Towards the coast, there are Kenya and Tanzania – who both have aspirations to become the next big African airline empire. Uganda has plenty of opportunities to play off each of these rivals and base itself as a worthy stopover point for all travel across the continent, much like how SWISS or KLM has in Europe with centrally located hubs. But is Uganda’s airport infrastructure up to standard to lead forward with this dream?
The country has many airstrips, but only twelve airports rated for airline travel. Of these twelve, only five have regularly scheduled passenger service. The government also has another major international airport currently under construction.
Entebbe International Airport
Entebbe International Airport is the leading international airport in the country, with 1.8 million passengers a year back in 2018 and is located roughly 40 km outside of the largest city of Uganda. It has two asphalt runways, but not of the same length. One if long enough for large aircraft like the Boeing 747, while the other is only long enough for smaller narrowbody aircraft like the Boeing 737. Back in 2015, the government of South Korea organized an aid mission to the Government of Uganda with funds to help modernize the airport and bring it up to an international standard. With a set budget of 27 billion Uganda Shillings, the government has outlined a three-phase plan to upgrade the airport.
- 2015 – 2018 – Phase one includes expanding the cargo handling facility, a new international terminal, and updating the existing (and only) main domestic airport. The shorter runway is being upgraded and renovated to accommodate larger aircraft. This will cost $200 million US from a bank in China.
- 2019 – 2023 – Phase two is upgrading the fuel facilities to better supply larger aircraft. $125 million US has been put aside for this phase, although it has yet to be sourced.
- 2023 – 2033 – A further $160 million US upgrade for ground-side facilities, such as car parks and a new modern control tower. Some budget has also been put aside for renovating the runways as by this time they will need maintenance.
“Entebbe International Airport will be a major entry and exit point for all the delegates, which calls for meticulous attention to detail in order to ensure smooth facilitation on arrival and departure” UCAA chairman board of Directors Mr. Mike Ndawula said to the press regarding the airports’ upgrades for the G77 event.
Right on the border with South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo lies Arua Airport – the second busiest airport of the nation (180 air traffic movements per month). Thanks to its close proximity to these two countries, it has become the defacto international point of arrival for those looking to enter the region.
The government has attempted to upgrade this airport multiple times, starting back in 2009. These plans included a new terminal building for up to 200 passengers and extending (and paving) the runway up to 2.5 kilometers (8,200 ft) to take international narrowbody aircraft. This would allow the airport to serve other destinations apart from domestic routes to Entebbe and become even more attractive for passengers in South Sudan and DRC.
Plans stalled when the airport began acquiring nearby land from farmers, and it was only until 2019 that efforts resumed.
“We hope to have the building ready in eight months, after which we shall go into the second phase of widening and tarmacking the runway,” said The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) managing director, Wenceslaus Rama Makuza, said last year.
Initially a military airport, Gulu Airport has had to find its new place in a demilitarised Uganda. With the air force gone, the airport authority has an opportunity to take advantage of many of the leftover facilities, long asphalt runway, and fuel depots.
Since January 2014, the government has planned a long renovation of the site. First works began by resurfacing the runway and extending it up to three kilometers (10,300) ft to better serve widebody aircraft. In addition, the authority has since planned to update the ground handing facilities with a new passenger terminal, a new car park, and a cargo handling terminal. The airport is also lacking proper radar and weather detection equipment, as well as landing lights for commercial aircraft.
“Back in the 1960s, this was a very active airbase but it has gone down over the years. We want this facility to regain its status and the roads around should thus be repaired because we do not need all these machines, air force military jets, to get in contact with dust at all,” Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said in 2019.
Despite all these good intentions, Uganda has had some trouble attracting aviation services to use the sprawling site. Gulu has only recently attracted city status (with over 100,000 residences) however, this doesn’t seem enough to attract many private operators to fly to the airport direct.
“Political interference, compounded by the outbreak of infectious Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) early this year, freighted some flight companies that had expressed interest in using the airport,” said Gulu District Chairperson Martin Ojara Mapenduzi to press.
Hoima International Airport (under construction)
The new international airport of the country, Hoima International Airport (also called Kabaale International Airport), is set to be a game-changer for the region. The airport facility will sit on a site 26 km squared with a single 3,500m long asphalt runway. Its primary purpose is to facilitate the construction of oil fields and a new oil refinery for a state-owned resources company.
Construction began in 2019 for a cost of $309 million US and included not only the runway but a cargo terminal, an air traffic control tower, as well as associated systems and other structures. This was expected to be finished in 2020. With the site operational for cargo flights, the government can focus on building passenger facilities to boost tourism and business. This will create around 1,000 jobs for the region and have many benefits down the line. Alas, most recent reports in 2020 have shown than the construction has slowed (but not stalled) with the site only 45% complete. This means that it will take longer for this second international airport dream to be realised, although they are certainly making haste with the project.
“We have Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park, and many other tourist attraction sites will be easily accessed by tourists. After everything has been put together, this region will be promoted and developed,” said Lars Peter Jensen, the airport project manager. “With access to the airport, the farmers will export their produce to the outside world.”
With these airports in play, Uganda has found itself in a fortunate position possibly rival other large nations such as Kenya and Tanzina quickly. If you are an aviation firm looking to do business in Uganda, then consider Eways Aviation as your helpful partner in breaking into this dynamic and rewarding region. Contact us today.