Uganda Airlines mulls UK flights through Nairobi
Sunday January 01 2023
Uganda Airlines is reactivating plans to start flights to Heathrow, after getting an indication from authorities in the United Kingdom that it can operate the service through an intermediate airport.
The Ugandan carrier has been given intermediate airports in six countries in Africa and Europe, whose airports have a United Kingdom Civil Aviation Authority security clearance. These are Kenya, Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Tunisia and Turkey.
This follows the carrier’s application for services to the UK receiving preliminary approval, while it would take the better part of two years for the UKCAA to complete its security vetting of Entebbe International Airport.
“At the airline level, we are cleared,” Uganda Airlines chief executive Jenifer Bamuturaki, told The EastAfrican. “In principle, we have two options – to wait until Entebbe International Airport has gone through a security audit by the UKCAA so that we can fly direct from there, or go through a third country whose airport already has the necessary clearances.”
She added that they have held internal meetings to see which of the third-country options suits their operations best and were now activating the arrangements they had previously made on the ground in the UK for a possible launch of services during the summer of 2023.
“We now have to confirm with them and set up arrangements in line with our cargo designation. On the ground, we had already set up at the airport and what is left is for us to set up a marketing office and reactivate the slots we were initially allocated,” Ms Bamuturaki said.
Barring unlikely concessions, the intermediate stop will be purely technical with the Ugandan carrier not allowed to pick up onward traffic. All passengers and crew on the flight will have to disembark and go through the passenger screening process at the intermediate before getting back on board.
Of the seven options, Ghana has already been eliminated because its requirements are similar to the UK’s and the Ghana CAA would have to audit the security status at Entebbe International. The airline is now examining the suitability of Algeria and Egypt because they align best with Entebbe from an operational perspective.
“Kenya is a good option but, like Morocco, Turkey and Tunisia, it would involve some deviation off the regular flying track,” Ms Bamuturaki said.
According to sources, the British CAA has told Uganda Airlines that vetting Entebbe would take along time. However, sources familiar with operations at Entebbe International Airport insist the airport is good enough since other international airlines such as KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and Brussels airlines, have departures to Europe from there. Until it suspended flights to Uganda in October 2015 over market issues, British Airways also operated four flights a week to Entebbe, from Heathrow.
Also, Entebbe completed the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Universal Security Audit Programme (USAP) in 2017, scoring 81.8 percent against a global average of 72 percent. However, it has been a while since the airport was subjected to ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP). The last USOAP on Entebbe was in July 2014.
The facility was scheduled to undergo another audit in 2020 but this was scuttled by the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent disruptions to global air travel. Another audit is now scheduled for October 2023, but the UK CAA, apparently wanted this brought forward. The Uganda CAA declined the request, reasoning that ICAO audit slots are pre-booked and it would be difficult to shift dates. The airport also needs the time to address the gaps identified in the earlier audit, which mainly pertain to skills gaps and key personnel that the airport is in the process of hiring.
Uganda Airlines has been keen to launch services to London right from inception but the bid has been beset by challenges. While it took delivery of its Airbus A330's to serve the route, the Uganda CAA only gave the carrier the type certificate in August 2021. And as the airline went through the paces set by the UK CAA, bilateral negotiations at state-to-state level were lagging.
*Story updated to add more details.