High costs limiting domestic air transport, airlines say 

Operators say, fixing runways in different parts of the country is necessary to ease domestic flights. Photo / Courtesy 

What you need to know:

  • Airlines pay $2.4 (Shs8,999) per litre of gasoline compared to their Kenyan counterparts who pay $1.8 (Shs6,749)

Air operators in the Uganda have said operational costs such as high fuel prices, poor state of regional airstrips and low domestic demand are key factors that limit growth on domestic air transport. 

The operators, who were eight in total, made the call while seeking renewal of their Air Service Licenses by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) at a public hearing conducted by retired deputy Chief Justice and CAA chairman, Steven Kavuma. 

Uganda has 26 licensed air operators operating scheduled, and non- scheduled flights for passengers, cargo, training and aerial works. 

Ms Catherine Mugo, the AeroLink accountable manager, said fixing runways such as that of the Kisoro [District] Airstrip was necessary since it remained a challenge to their air hauling services offered to tourists.

Airline operators also argued that the cost of operations remain high, driven partly by high fuel prices, and high charges for international passengers transiting through Entebbe International Airport. 

Airlines pay $2.4 (Shs8,999) per litre of gasoline compared to their Kenyan counterparts who pay $1.8 (Shs6,749).  

Air operators in Uganda also incur an additional international passenger levy of $57 (Shs213,731) for each passenger. 

Ms Sheila Kobusingye, the Asante Aviation accountable manager, noted that sourcing local financing for their operations remains a huge challenge. However, Mr Fred Bamwesigye, the CAA director general, said at least 13 airstrips are operational, but admitted that there is still low usage of the facilities. 

“We use our own resources to maintain facilities because they can’t [raise revenue] for sustaining them,” he said.

Airlines have continued to recover from Covid-19 effects where they reported low sales, worsened by the recent Ebola attack. 

Entebbe International Airport, the country’s main gate-way, has registered tremendous growth in passengers numbers, rising  from 118,000 in 1991 to 1.8 million in 2019, before the advent of Covid-19, which greatly impacted the aviation industry. 

In 2022, the airport recorded 1.57 million passengers, an increase of 87 percent post Covid-19 recovery. Cargo traffic has grown steadily over the years with 61,000 metric tons recorded in 2022. 

In September last year, the $9.5m (Shs35b) modernisation and automation of Entebbe International Airport project was commissioned in conjunction with the Korea International Cooperation Agency. 

Part of the major project for upgrade and expansion of the airport, which includes resurfacing of both runways and associated taxiways were completed. 

CAA data shows the Aircraft Apron has been expanded to create more aircraft parking spaces and a state-of-the-art new cargo centre with capacity to handle 100,000 metric tons of cargo per year was completed. 

Mr Kavuma said the re-modified passenger terminal building is expected to be opened to the public in 2023 so that departing passengers can be dropped-off by the entrance to the terminal building into a more spacious and ambient facility.

Similarly, arriving passengers will exit through a bigger facility.

On completion of the on-going projects, Mr Kavuma said the airport’s terminal capacity will be enhanced from the current two million to at least 3.5 million passengers in 2024.

Other projects include construction of a new fully automated aviation fuel hydrant system with enhanced capacity to store 20 million liters of aviation fuel, up from the current 7.5 million litres.