How CAA Top Brass Sabotaged Certification of Entebbe Airport, Delaying Uganda Airlines Flights to UK

On April 15, 2022, President Museveni walked out of his living room at State Lodge Nakasero to meet with the UK Ambassador to Uganda, Kate Airey.

Kate was accompanied by Lord Popat, a Conservative Peer at the House of Lords who also doubles as UK Trade Envoy for Uganda and Rwanda.

Popat told Museveni that trade between the two countries would have blossomed if Uganda Airlines commenced direct flights to London.

“If Uganda is willing, we are ready to send our aviation people here to help UCAA (Uganda Civil Aviation Authority) so that we can have direct flights to the UK,” said Popat.

A frustrated Museveni said the delay in the certification of Entebbe Airport was caused by the “lazy public service” the NRM government inherited in 1986.

“I will push the two entities to have the paperwork done soon so that Uganda can start direct flights to the UK,” said Museveni.

Uganda Airlines secured slots for departures and landing at London Heathrow Airport after receiving its two Airbus A330-800 Neo aircrafts in December 2020 and February 2021.

The airline had earlier submitted an application for an Air Operator’s Certificate to operate in the UK and expected to commence the flights in January 2021. However, this had not been issued.

What really happened?

The delay of Uganda Airlines to fly to the United Kingdom and ultimately the European Region who are governed by the United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority and European Aviation Safety Agency respectively, has been affected by the outdated certification status.

This delay is based on the delayed resolution of issues raised by the last ICAO audit in 2014 such as legislation, organization, licensing, operations, airworthiness, accident investigation, air navigation services and aerodromes.

For example, experts discovered that runway surface friction tests were not being carried out yet they are required both under self-wetting and in natural rainfall.

There was no wind velocity display in the watchroom; there was no radio to watch inbound aircraft; there was no equipment to access the top decks of aircraft such as B747 that operate daily at Entebbe; the marine rescue units lacked life jackets; and staff did not know how to drive a scania fire vehicles among other challenges.

The biggest effect to Uganda is that economic welfare projects like the initiatives being spearheaded by DFID (UK) where Uganda would be exporting food directly to the UK supermarkets cant kick off without these improved oversight systems and certification levels.

Moreso, Uganda would also make billions of shillings from the direct flights to London, making Uganda Airlines more competitive in the region.

Aviation Development Chief Analyst, James Pearson said over 84,000 passengers flew on Entebbe-London flight on a two-way point-to-point basis in 2019, “making Entebbe the second largest unserved market from Africa to London.”

However, a trove of documents seen by this investigative website shows that efforts to certify the airport were undermined by the top leadership of UCAA.

In 2018, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a specialized agency of the United Nations established to manage the administration and governance of the Convention on International Civil Aviation,  selected Entebbe among 8 airports for assistance to be certified within a short period of time.

ICAO works with the Convention’s 191 Member States and industry groups to reach consensus on international civil aviation Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and policies in support of a safe, efficient, secure, economically sustainable and environmentally responsible civil aviation sector.

These SARPs and policies are used by ICAO Member States to ensure that their local civil aviation operations and regulations conform to global norms, which in turn permits more than 100,000 daily flights in aviation’s global network to operate safely and reliably in every region of the world.

The proposed certification of Entebbe Airport was a great move in boosting the airport’s safety record and attracting more operators.

ICAO went further and provided an aerodrome expert to help expedite this process for a period of 12 months.

According to confidential UCAA records seen by ChimpReports, having successfully completed the oversight component, the ICAO expert started helping UCAA to build the necessary operational and sustainable capabilities of the airport staff.

The malfunctioned Baggage Handling System at Entebbe International Airport (Courtesy photo)

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

The certification committee was chaired by Fred Bamwesigye who was deputised by Eng Ayub Sooma (project manager).

Fred Lutalo served as project hands-on coordinator. Other members on the committee included Eng Ronald Twesigye, Chris Omondi, Rev Ateboa, Hannington Banyendera, Godfrey Matovu, Marion Tibenderana and Pascal Jabbe.

The report showed that the senior management in the airport operator did not significantly participate in the aerodrome certification preparation, such as the 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 reads in part.

“Most senior management discussions concentrated on procurement methodologies, rather than prioritizing proposals submitted to them by different disciplines in the aerodrome operator simulations of the new taxiway designations prior to ordering the signs.”

Long journey 

The revelations explain how UCAA has been trying to certify the airport since 2014 but poor management and failure to conform to standard in key areas like accident investigations, operations, safety and security have continued to bedevil the sector.

The UCAA certification committee which was headed by current airport boss, Fred Bamwesigye, spent billions of taxpayers’ money on benchmarking in several countries but 13 years later the standards have still not been met.

Rwanda recently beat Entebbe Airport to the coveted  Category One Certification, under  the US Federal Aviation Administration’s International Aviation Safety Assessment program (IASA).

The rating opened the way for direct flights between Rwanda and the United States, which flag carrier Rwandair has been aiming at for some years.

However, for Uganda, the last audit was carried out in 2014 and Uganda scored 61.6% against 8 audit areas of legislation, organization, licensing, operations, airworthiness, accident investigation, air navigation services and aerodromes.

This audit gives an indication of the level of safety oversight systems of that particular country and is readily available on the ICAO online portal for all the contracting states.

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

The score was below the global average as indicated in the graph, implying that standards in Uganda are lower than international standards, and that there is no commitment to improve, considering nothing has been done since 2014.

“President Museveni and his government need to crack the whip and change the management of UCAA,” said a senior official at the Works Ministry.

“Entebbe Airport is not only an embarrassment for the country but a money wasting venture as projects are never completed or executed professionally. The UCAA staff are extorting money from the public. There is a lot of unchecked corruption and impunity which require direct state intervention.”


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