Uganda’s Aviation Infrastructure: Time for ambitious upgrades and structural reform

In Summary

By Kenneth Shaaka For the past seven years, Entebbe International Airport has been a perpetual construction […]

By Kenneth Shaaka

For the past seven years, Entebbe International Airport has been a perpetual construction site, with ongoing upgrades aimed at increasing its capacity from 2 million to 3.5 million passengers annually. Going by recent figures, this expansion is a timid exercise in futility that is akin to band-aiding.

Recent statistics paint a picture of a growing demand that far outpaces the current and proposed capacity. According to the UCAA’s own estimates, passenger traffic is projected to grow 7-8pc annually.  Even at the lower end of that scale,  it would take only eight years for traffic to reach 4, 436,371 passengers,  virtually swallowing up the 1.5 million passengers capacity that the new terminal will add.

In the first quarter of 2024 alone, the airport saw a 35.5% growth in passenger traffic compared to the same period in 2023, handling over half a million two-way passengers. As Uganda’s economy continues to grow, tourist numbers increase, Petro-dollars beckon, it’s becoming ever more evident that the current upgrades fall short of meeting medium to long-term demand.

Also Read: Entebbe in race against time as passenger traffic overruns capacity – 256 Business News256 Business News

The country’s track record of sluggish and inefficient project implementation exacerbates the issue, prolonging inconveniences for the traveling public and stalling economic progress. Therefore, a more ambitious approach is imperative to avoid recurrent disruptions and ensure sustained growth. Proposing a leap in capacity to accommodate 10 million passengers might seem too ambitious, but it is a necessary step to future-proof Entebbe International Airport. By adopting a forward-thinking mindset, Uganda can circumvent the need for frequent and disruptive upgrade processes, sparing passengers the inconvenience of navigating a construction zone for years on end. Such bold endeavors demonstrate a commitment to fostering a conducive environment for business and tourism while positioning Uganda as a regional aviation hub.

Furthermore, the current regulatory structure within Uganda’s aviation sector warrants reevaluation. While it might have been justifiable when the CAA was first set up 30 years ago, the dual role of the Civil Aviation Authority, both as regulator and operator of airports, presents inherent conflicts of interest. This antiquated arrangement contrasts with the practices of neighboring countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, which for over the past 25 years have established separate entities to manage airport operations and regulate the industry. A dedicated Airports Authority would streamline planning, management, and upgrade initiatives, ensuring greater efficiency in execution and transparency.

Uganda stands at a pivotal juncture where decisive action is needed to revitalize its aviation infrastructure and propel economic development; and yet at both the regulatory framework and project implementation levels we seem to lack ambition and focus. Embracing more ambitious upgrades and instituting structural reforms as part of an overarching vision, are crucial steps towards gaining a competitive age in a fast-changing regional landscape. By prioritizing long-term sustainability over short-term convenience, Uganda can cultivate an aviation policy framework that fosters growth, connectivity, and prosperity for generations to come.

Kenneth Shaaka is a Project Management Professional, Data Scientist, Entrepreneur and
CEO at Rextan International Co. Ltd

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