Failure by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) to address the outdated International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) certification status of Entebbe airport is being blamed for delaying Uganda Airlines (UR, Entebbe) plans to serve the United Kingdom.

According to documents unearthed by Kampala-based tabloid ChimpReports, the UCAA has been trying to update the airport’s certification since its last ICAO inspection in 2014. Still, poor management and failure to conform to standards in critical areas like accident investigations, operations, safety and security continue to bedevil efforts. A UCAA certification committee headed by current airport boss, Fred Bamwesigye, reportedly spent billions of taxpayers’ money on benchmarking in several countries. However, years later, the standards have still not been met.

Entebbe’s outdated certification status meant Uganda Airlines could not fly from there to London Heathrow, despite having secured slots after receiving its two A330-800Ns in December 2020 and February 2021, respectively. Failure to launch the route negatively affected the airline’s bottom line.

According to ChimpReports, during the 2014 ICAO audit, the airport scored 61.6% in eight areas, including legislation, organisation, licensing, operations, airworthiness, accident investigation, air navigation services, and aerodromes. Amongst the concerns recorded by ICAO inspectors were that runway surface friction tests were not being carried out; there was no wind velocity display; there was no radio to monitor inbound aircraft; there was no equipment to access the top decks of aircraft such as B747 that operate daily at Entebbe; marine rescue units lacked life jackets; and staff did not know how to use fire combatting vehicles.

In 2018, ICAO selected Entebbe among eight airports for assistance with certification. The organisation provided an aerodrome expert for 12 months to help expedite the process. According to confidential UCAA records seen by ChimpReports, having completed the oversight component, the ICAO expert started helping UCAA build the operational and sustainable capabilities of the airport staff.

“However, after three months of the extension, the expert raised serious concerns, most of which can be attributed to the negative attitude and lack of necessary support from the airport staff,” reads an internal UCCA memo dated October 2018, adding, “the expert withdrew from the project.”

The report showed that senior airport management “did not significantly participate in the aerodrome certification preparation”, such as documentation and procedure consultations. “This impacted related activities as key senior managers required extensive explanation on many certification issues during otherwise technical working group meetings,” the report stated.

Meanwhile, Kigali, Rwanda, recently beat Entebbe Airport to the coveted Category One Certification under the US Federal Aviation Administration’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme. The rating opened the way for direct flights between Rwanda and the United States, which flag carrier RwandAir (WB, Kigali) has been aiming for some years.

In the East African Community, Burundi was last audited in 2019, Rwanda in 2019, Kenya in 2018, and Tanzania in 2019. All these countries scored higher than Uganda.