ICAO’s finally publishes GAP Analysis on UCAA audit


(Posted 31st December 2014)

Four pages of urgent recommendations by ICAO, the International Civil Aviation Organization, dominated by the words ‘Inconsistent’, ‘Inefficient’ and ‘Insufficient’ finally tell the story of just how badly the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority performed in the audit on their operations earlier this year.

It may be recalled that on the 17th of June did the UCAA in a cloak and dagger operation pull all Air Operator Certificates sanctioning flights beyond Uganda’s borders, effectively shutting down flights by Ugandan registered airlines across the national borders, but grotesquely allowed several of the affected airlines to continue domestic operations. This in fact already back then exposed the flaws in the UCAA’s decisions, as their mouthpieces were running up and down, trying to schmooze the local media into believing, that safety concerns where the primary factor behind their action. ‘How can we be unsafe flying across the borders and yet we are considered safe enough to fly within Uganda. This simply does not add up’ said a Kajjansi based operator at the time, instantly shredding the argument the UCAA had put to the public.

The Ugandan media though caught on quickly to the truth and in a series of stinging articles told the public what really went on behind the scenes, tearing apart the UCAA’s feeble attempts to save face.

One of the arguments advanced at the time was that the ICAO audit had also focused on the airlines, an entirely false representation as ICAO strictly deals with national regulators, not the airlines under their jurisdiction, and the document now received makes not one mention of having audited airlines, though it exposes a wide range of shortcomings within the UCAA spread over four pages covering 12 Focus Areas of heightened concerns.


What is clear is that the UCAA failed the aviation industry in particular in their regulatory capacity. They also failed the country by killing off several airlines which could not or would not sustain the losses inflicted on them by the UCAA’s arbitrary action under a system where one and the same corporate body is prosecutor, jury, judge and executioner with no option of appeal, reminiscent of what one aviator called ‘Amin’s dictatorial legacy’. This element was addressed by ICAO when they asked for a ‘just culture’ to be introduced by legislative changes to prevent such a disaster from ever happening again. (Quote: Uganda should review its aviation legislation to include provisions that guarantee the concept of a ‘just culture’.)

As a result of Air Uganda losing their AOC – the UCAA decided not to grant a temporary AOC while re-certification was ongoing as is ordinarily the practice in aviation) – did airfares promptly rise and are only of late returning to pre 17th June levels after RwandAir and Ethiopian began to fly from Entebbe to Juba and RwandAir was granted fifth freedom rights to fly from Entebbe to Nairobi, the latter route however still to become operational.

There are other areas too however where the UCAA is failing Ugandans and that is in their capacity as airport managers. Ideally would Uganda have incorporated a Uganda Airport Authority, which, as is the case in for instance Tanzania and Kenya, would be subject to regulatory oversight, citations for shortcomings and punitive measures for continued failures to rectify them. In Uganda, managing Entebbe International Airport is done by the same body which also regulates, itself for that matter, something which in plain terms compares to a student writing an exam and then grading his or her own work. Plenty of complaints over many years have produced no change in key areas where passengers are made to suffer.

The often used pre-perimeter fence check point, just outside the UCAA offices, remains unpaved and without shelter, causing passengers in wet conditions to get a good soak, besides muddy shoes and if unlucky splashed with muddy water when a passing car hits a pothole.

When the checks are carried out at the perimeter fence, at least a small area is now under a roof to provide cover for the security staff, but still do people get wet when they have to leave their cars to walk to the scanning machine, but not that the trials and tribulations of passengers end there.

When the parking is full, and it often is these days, departing passengers face multiple obstacles. First is there no shelter and when it rains this is a recipe to get wet to the skin. The narrow exit from the parking towards the terminal is often totally congested at the steel gate which is only half open. This prompts regular shoving, pushing and as witnessed at times heated arguments when passengers whose flight is already checking in, find themselves blocked from leaving the parking area in a hurry by arriving passengers and often people who are NOT traveling but coming in their scores to see off or receive travelers. This bottle neck is a result of failed physical planning for traffic flows of arriving and departing passengers outside the terminal. And when finally on the way, more unsheltered open areas have to be crossed, in rain again a guarantee for getting soaked. There are no escalators or elevators to assist physically challenged passengers, who have to climb the stairs, exposed to the elements, to reach the upper terminal level, have to cross the open road and then often find long queues outside the terminal entrance, again exposed to the elements.

Many tour operators have in the past made it clear that when they get feedback from their clients about their experience in the country, the departure experience in Entebbe, especially when it rains, ranks as worst, impacting on the overall enjoyment of an otherwise often perfect vacation.

It is clear that the regulatory oversight, to address such fundamental shortcomings, has failed, no wonder, as the regulators are also the managers and not likely to engage a turf war in their own offices.

In closing, there is still no rationale why vehicular access should only be permitted to government and diplomatic vehicles, as in every other airport in the region drop off and pick up is done at or near the terminal, be it in Kigali, Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Kilimanjaro or Mombasa, except for Entebbe that is.

Today, 31st of December 2014, is the day when Air Uganda will formally close down, the winding up now at a stage where the lawyers will do the remaining paperwork. All of U7’s 230+ staff are gone and many are still looking for jobs while those responsible are, inexplicably, sitting smug in their glass, steel and marble offices in Entebbe, defying calls for their resignation while the government has so far ignored calls for a fundamental overhaul of the UCAA including major changes in staffing.

2014 remains in Uganda’s aviation history as the year when the regulators, to evade citation by ICAO, crashed the aviation industry, and did so without remorse. Needless to say, they did not get a Christmas card nor good wishes for a Happy New Year.

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