Entebbe International Airport gears up to resume operations on Thursday

In March this year, President Yoweri Museveni directed the closure of Entebbe Airport and other entry and exits points in and out of the country to halt the spread of the corona virus.  

But, as re-opening gets closer this Thursday October 1st, passengers who had got used to airport security officials going through their packages and bags, removing belts and shoes before being subjected to thorough body checks, look set for even tougher times. For a start, passengers will have to arrive at least four hours before their flight.

On Tuesday afternoon, Airport Management, together with a host of officials from the Ministry of Works and Transport and the Ministry of Health will inspect the prepared of the Airport as the Uganda’s gateway sets to resume operations.

Besides going through a long health check, wearing face masks at all times, maintaining social distance, washing hands and using sanitizers will be mandatory. Passengers with any of the symptoms of the novel corona virus will be blocked from accessing the airport.

 “You will be expected to have a valid COVID-19 certificate issued within 48 hours from where you are coming, and on arrival, we shall still take your COVID-19 samples,” Vianney Luggya, the Manager Public Affairs for the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority says.

Airport authorities have also domesticated several standard operating procedures from the International Civil Aviation Organization, the World Health Organization, the Airports Council International, the International Air Transport Association, the Africa Civil Aviation Commission and the Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency.

The airport authorities have already erected tents for health screening of incoming passengers while designated tents have also been erected for people with symptoms.  Ugandans returning from abroad have already been screened in these areas.

Other Standard Operating Procedures developed by UCAA include; installation of automated sanitizers at strategic points at the airport to ensure social distancing, institution of temperature guns, and three ultra-modern scans which detect temperature at a 30-metre distance.

These will be installed in the waiting lounges and rooms of Very Important Persons (VIPs). Glass shields to minimize contact between the passengers are also being installed while taps in the washrooms have been changed to non-touch faucets.

There are also plans to put in place automated non-touch doors in the passenger access areas. The pre-boarding lounges which for a long time have been small partitioned zones will be torn down to create more space for passengers.

Entebbe is 5.87 km north of the equator and 47 km south of Uganda’s capital Kampala. It is the main gateway into Uganda and boasts more than 70% of passenger arrivals into the country

The new protocols found Entebbe Airport already undergoing several upgrades. Work on expanding the cargo center is still ongoing but the old runway 12/30 is ready to handle airlines.

The government closed Entebbe Airport on March 22nd. This was one of the measures put in place to prevent the introduction of the corona virus in the country. Only cargo and UN aircraft were allowed to fly in and out of Uganda.

Local tourism players say, since Entebbe is the main gateway into Uganda reopening it is an enabler for recovery of all sectors in the economy, including the tourism industry.

October 1st was set up as tentative date for the re-opening. This according to tour operators has enable travelers schedule their bookings to Uganda.

In August this year, the East African Business Council (EABC) called upon the East African Community countries to resume commercial flight operations. Tanzania resumed international flights on May 18th, while chartered flights in Rwanda resumed on June 18th. Kenya opened domestic travel on July 15th while international flights resumed on Aug 1st.

UCAA officials say traffic (passengers) at Entebbe Airport had been growing steadily over the years. Last year, Entebbe Airport saw 1.98 million passengers go through its gates; a 7.6% increase from the 2018 figure of 1.84 million.

Basing on these numbers, the airport authorities were ready to see at least two million travelers depart, arrive or go through the airport this year. But, from the current projections, that will not happen.

Passenger traffic in January, this year, had showed good signs of a good year with about 150,000 travelers’ passports stamped, but that number fell by 7.1% in February to about 140,000. However, by April, passenger traffic had fallen to only 987 passengers.

Also, there has been a decrease in the amount of cargo received through the airport.

Internationally, latest figures from the International Air Transport Association estimated that the industry has so far lost US$ 419 billion of revenue. IATA has estimated that full pre-COVID-19 recovery shall happen in 2024.

Before COVID-19, close to 32,000 aircraft movements (landing and take-off) were being registered at Entebbe Airport annually, with a daily number of flights soaring between 90-120 jetting out of Entebbe. When passenger operations were suspended, flight handlers started seeing between 7-14 flights every day, majorly with cargo.

More than 8000 staff attached to UCAA and several private companies including; DAS Handling Limited and ENHAS have been hit hard.

Unlike other government agencies, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority gets all its revenue from the airport operations. On average the airport operations bring in about Ugx 20 billion monthly. However, in March and April, UCAA collected a paltry Ugx 1 billion.

Additional reporting by The Independent

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