Entebbe International Airport will receive 12 commercial passenger flights today, October 1, 2020, the first day of reopening the airport, after a six months lull. The incoming flights include Turkish, RwandAir, Ethiopian Airlines, Emirates, Tarco Air and FlyDubai, among others.
The airport was partially closed on March 23, 2020, as a way of combatting the spread of coronavirus disease-COVID-19. During the time, only emergency flights, comprising mainly returning nationals and cargo, were allowed to land at the airport.
According to new guidelines issued by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA, each airline, apart from Uganda Airlines will operate only one flight daily in the first phase of the reopening, covering the months of October to December 2020. The national airline will operate two flights a day to Nairobi, four times to Juba and Dar-es-salaam and thrice to Mogadishu.
Roger Wamala, Uganda Airline’s Commercial Director says that the airline has increased the cost of its commercial flight air tickets by an average of 3 per cent to cater for additional costs such as personal protective equipment among others to combat the spread of COVID-19. He adds that the Mogadishu and Juba routes have so far attracted over 50 passengers per flight while Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam are expected to pick up in the coming months.
As the airport reopened, Turkish Airlines was the first to operate a departing flight destined for Istanbul at 4:05 a.m, followed by a Uganda Airlines flight to Mogadishu at 6:45 a.m. and Nairobi at 10 am.
UCAA’s spokesperson, Vianney Luggya says that all the 16 air operators will operate scheduled passenger flights via Entebbe. Egypt Air will operate its first flight on October 9, 2020, while KLM will start on Saturday, October 3, and operate four flights a week, according to Lukia Otema, the KLM Royal Dutch Airlines Country Manager.
Otema says that many people are still hesitant to travel due to COVID-19 concerns. An official from Brussels Airlines shares the same sentiments saying that less than 60 people have so far booked air tickets for its first flight to Brussels scheduled for October 4. The plane can, however, carry over 200 passengers.
Eunice Nabukenya, a tour and travel agent says that it will take several months before air travel may regain its vibrancy. She says that her company has not yet received any bookings for the next three months, adding that the upcoming 2021 general elections could worsen the situation.
“Apart from people who will travel for medical and work-related reasons, I think tourists will start coming to Uganda after March next year,” Nabukenya says.
Carol Naava, the Operations Officer at Ganyana Safaris Ltd, says the company has also not received any bookings for the next three months. “Yet, people who love safaris book in advance, say two to three months before boarding flights. So I don’t think there will be many people coming to Uganda until the end of the year.”
Meanwhile, George Wangaya, the Manager of Awel Tours and Travel Ltd, says he has got only three bookings, one client who wants to come to Uganda while the other two want to travel for work abroad. He says that the resumption of commercial flights will relieve travellers from the high cost of air tickets some had to pay for chartered flights during the partial shutdown.
He, however, says some people may fail to travel because of the various standard operating procedures put in place by different countries. These include the costs of COVID-19 tests and the validity period for the test certificates among others.
Before the partial lockdown, Entebbe Airport used to handle over 120 flights a day. However, due to limited space at the passenger terminal, only a few flights will take place daily so that airport staff, passengers and crew members observe the health and safety measures such as social distancing.