Flag carrier Uganda Airlines is working towards a summer launch for its long-delayed service to Heathrow, after being given the option to operate the flights through an intermediate airport.
The option to operate the flights through gateways in Algeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Tunisia, or Turkey was floated to the carrier by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, following delays in commencing a security audit of Entebbe. The intermediate gateways already have an existing security rating by the UK CAA.
“In principle, we have two options – to wait until Entebbe International Airport has gone through a security audit by the UK CAA so that we can fly direct from there; or go through a third country whose airport already has the necessary clearances,” says Uganda Airlines chief executive Jenifer Bamuturaki.
It is estimated that the Ugandan carrier would have to wait for the better part of 24 months if it were to insist on a direct service. Entebbe last completed ICAO’s Universal Safety Audit Program in 2017, scoring 81.8% against a global average of 72%. But it has not been subjected to ICAO’s Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme (USOAP) since July 2014. A USOAP is now scheduled for October 2023, after which the UK CAA would then conduct its own security audit of the country’s main international gateway.
Bamuturaki says the focus now is on selecting the “third-country option that best fits” their operations and reactivating the arrangements that had previously made on the ground in the UK, for a possible launch of services during the summer of 2023. “We had already set up at the airport, what is left is for us to set up a marketing office and reactivate the slots we had been previously allocated,” she says further.
Of the seven options, Ghana is unavailable 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 point of view.
Officials at Entebbe International Airport however insist the facility is good enough for operations to the UK because 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 operated four flights a week between Entebbe and Heathrow.
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 change dates.
Officials say the airport also needs the time to fully address the gaps identified in the earlier audit, which mainly related 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 A330s to serve the route, the carrier only secured the type certificate in August 2021. And as the airline went through the paces set by the UK CAA, bilateral negotiations at a state-to-state level were lagging.