Aviation Industry Picking Slowly; Players Hope for Full Recovery Next Year

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Uganda’s aviation industry is picking up slowly with the gradual increase in the  number of international passengers recorded in the last five months. 

Entebbe International Airport resumed commercial passenger flights on 1st October, 2020.

According to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority- UCAA figures,  a total of 49,600 passengers were handled in October 2020,  accounting  for a daily average of 1,600 travelers. The number rose to 51,000 passengers, approximately 1,700 per day in November and, then it moved upwards, by 15 percent, to 58,900 passengers in December. However, the numbers fell to 57,783 passengers in January 2021. This was a decrease of 2 percent.

However,  in February, the industry traffic numbers hit the 60,000 mark, with a  total of 61,446 passengers.  Of these, 26,904 were arriving  and 31,084 departing travelers. 3,448  passengers were in transit. 

Thomas Kiggundu, a board member of  UCAA,  says that  Uganda’s aviation industry is just recovering from the adverse effects occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Entebbe Airport handled 1,980,000 international passengers in 2019 compared to 565,541 passengers in 2020,  which Kiggundu says is a clear demonstration that the pandemic affected passenger traffic.

Kiggundu explains further that “even after resumption of passenger operations, the situation is yet to stabilise”  because the operations had hit an all-time low and resulted in the huge drop in  UCAA revenues.  Before the lockdown, UCAA was recording revenues of 20 billion shillings a month, but this  dropped to 1 billion Shillings a month. 

Lily Ajarova, the Chairperson Uganda Tourism Board, attributes the decline in traffic in the month of January to the effects of the  general elections.

“Traffic reduces during the election period,” Ajarova says. “So minus COVID-19, we would still have lower figures.” In January,  most of the passengers were outbound,  31,084 in number,  while  26,904 were inbound and 3,448 were in transit.

Ajarova however says that players in the aviation and tourism sectors are optimistic for a full recovery in 2022, as  countries open up their economies  in phases and also the ongoing COVID-19  vaccination exercise  across the globe including in Uganda.

Currently, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the USA, Italy and China among others are only allowing essential travel. 

Lukia Otema, the Country Manager, KLM Airlines says that the travel restrictions have affected traffic on  its UK and USA routes.  Travelers, except diplomats and citizens among others, en route to the USA are not allowed to travel from or transit  through Europe. 

As a result, travel agents led by Irene Nalwoga and Medius Itungo  say the most attractive  routes are  the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar due to the number of Ugandans seeking work abroad as domestic workers and security guards.

These flights are operated by mainly FlyDubai, Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Ethiopian Airlines.

Meanwhile, John Gemin, the Country Manager Emirates Airlines, says the airline has seen “encouraging signs of demand for travel to Dubai, which remains a popular destination for Ugandans” as well as other destinations in India, cities such as New York and Seoul.

“With increased demand, our ultimate objective is to resume operations to the pre-pandemic schedule of daily flights to and from Uganda whilst ensuring the highest levels of health and safety standards,” Gemin says.

The airline resumed operations last October with three weekly flights. It increased the weekly flights to five  on March 6. 

Gemin however does not disclose how many passengers have been carried so far.

But travel consultants say Ethiopian Airline flights to Saudi Arabia are fully booked until April 20 and that one way air tickets cost an average of 500 USD for individuals and between 310 to 450 US Dollars for groups of ten travelers.

Itungo, who is the Travel Consultant at Anointed Tours and Travel Safaris, says most of the labour export companies  deal directly with airlines because they can get offers for the big groups of travelers.

She adds that other people are traveling for sports events, family reunions and medical care. However, these are few because she has sold only three air tickets in the last five months and she also does not have any bookings for the Easter season.

She adds that most business people now travel to Istanbul, Turkey since China remains closed to business people and tourists.

Nalwoga, who is the  Managing Director of Renewills Tours and Travel Ltd and Women Tour Uganda says few people are traveling because of the fear of contracting COVID-19 and the ever changing travel requirements.  She adds that air travel costs have increased due to higher air ticket prices and also costs of COVID-19 tests and quarantine.

For example, travelers en route to the UK have to pay  over 1,000 US Dollars for a ten-day quarantine at a designated hotel and an additional 250 US Dollars for tests during self isolation.

Joviah Nantumbwe, a teacher, says she wants to travel to the USA before her visa expires. So she will travel regardless of the costs involved.  She has since bought a return ticket at shillings 6 million and will travel this weekend aboard United Airlines. 


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