Anxiety as flights stall at Entebbe airport

STRANDED: Passengers who were scheduled to travel on Thursday wait outside the KLM offices at Entebbe Airport following the suspension of flights to some European countries. Photo by Martin Ssebuyira


The grounding of flights destined to Europe at Entebbe airport due to drifting ash ejected from a volcano in Iceland has caused anxiety among foreign travellers and a major loss to the local importers and exporters.

Exporters of fish and flowers are among the most affected by the flight stall that enters its fifth day today, Daily Monitor has learnt. An administrator with Rosebud, a flower exporting firm, Mr Dimpo Mehta, said they had resorted to using the more expensive road transport to get their products to the market. “We have lost so much trying to use the road. The losses are huge and we are still counting,” Mr Mehta said on phone. He said when the airspace was safe, the firm transported between 300,000 to 350,000 flower stems daily—but this has decreased significantly in the past four days.

Counting losses
Ms Ovia Matovu, the CEO of Uganda Fish Exporters and Processors, said the loss was inevitable but the real extent of the damage would be known when flights resume. Ugandan fish exports fetched $142.6 m last year, with Europe, that is most affected by the new crisis, offering more than 75 per cent of the revenue.

Mr Vianney Luggya, the deputy public relation officer of the Civil Aviation Authority, said operators have no choice but wait until the skies are safer before resuming flights.
He said the most affected were passengers booked onto KLM and SN Brussels and British Airways flights headed to Europe. Mr Luggya, however, declined to reveal the exact number of affected passengers. But sources at the airport indicated that stranded passengers have been storming the facility, demanding to know from airline officials when flights will resume.

“I am feeling frustrated, my budget is now tight and I have since resorted to my credit card,” said Ms Anna Karvonen, who was supposed to travel to Amsterdam last week after staying in Uganda for a month.

Daily Monitor learnt that other than crowd at the airport, most passengers had opted to stay in their hotel rooms where they are monitoring developments. In Britain, news sources indicated that Nats, the air traffic control company, said the ash cloud was still covering the country and the ban on flights would have to continue, although test flights by the Dutch and Swiss appeared to be successful.

Timesonline reported that Mr Graeme Leitch, of the Met Office, said a change in the wind direction might mean flight restrictions could be lifted but added that there was no indication that any such change was imminent.

In Kampala, the KLM station manager, Mr Godfrey Opicha, said the decision to resume flights will be communicated although their offices remained closed yesterday. According to CBC news, scientists have observed a reduction in the eruption of the volcano ash, meaning it will not be long before the European bound flights begin to fly again.

The highly abrasive ash can cause aircraft engines to fail if enough glass particles melt inside the engines and jam the machinery. Aviation experts say the volcanic plume has caused the worst travel disruption that Europe, and the world, has ever seen.