DALLAS – Entebbe International Airport (EBB) is so far the only international airport in Uganda and is the headquarters for the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA). The Queen of England, Queen Elizabeth, commissioned the airport in 1951.
The first terminal building was constructed and completed in 1973, and that marked the start of operations at the airport to date. It has come a long way amidst rumors of a takeover by the Chinese government due to loan defaults, but in 2015, the government of Korea, through the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), gave the government of Uganda a grant of UGX27 billion (estimated US$7 million) for the modernization of the airport.
The entire renovation, upgrade, and expansion budget is approximately US$586 million, which is expected to be done in three phases.
Airways had the chance to speak to the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority’s (UCAA) Manager of Public Affairs, Vianney Luggya, who shed more light on the expansion works at the airport.
Winifred Itungu: There have been talks of expansion; when and how do you anticipate it to happen?
Vianney Luggya: The expansion of the airport started some time ago, and several projects have been completed and a few are ongoing. I will mention those that have been completed first, and this includes putting up a new cargo center that can handle 1,000 metric tons of cargo a year. That has been operational since 2021.
We also refurbished the two runways and their associated taxiways. This is all part of the upgrade and expansion of Entebbe International Airport (EBB). The first phase covered 5 years, and it’s ending in July 2024. We also worked on the airport aprons—that’s aprons 2 and 4—and the cargo aprons at the new cargo center.
There’s ongoing work for the expansion of Apron 1, which is the main parking lot in front of the main building. Now, part of that has been completed, but part of it is being completed. That’s part of the ongoing work. The other major pending work is the construction of the new terminal building, which is 20,000 square meters in size. That will be completed in July 2024.
Would that mean that in 2024, you will have two new terminals?
All these works being mentioned are being undertaken by China Communication Construction Company as part of the upgrade and expansion of Entebbe International Airport. Besides that, we had some other works that were internally funded by UCAA resources, and that’s the modified terminal building that we opened up to the public on January 10, 2024.
It’s not necessarily a new terminal building; it’s the same current terminal building that we modified, and that was a different project. All the projects are harmonized in such a way that the new one we are talking about will be connected to the current terminal so that, at the end of the day, the facade of the entire building looks the same and will be applied to all the areas, including the old terminal.
In terms of capacity, it will be enhanced. Before we opened the old terminal, the maximum capacity the airport could accommodate was 2 million passengers a year. But now that this modified terminal and the expected new terminal that will be opened in July are in place, the expected capacity is at least 3.5 million passengers a year.
Was the modified terminal building put in place because of the delegates and heads of state that came into the country last week for the 19th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement?
No. This is a master plan that we had in place. This was promulgated in 2014, covering the next 20 years up to 2033. That master plan looked at where we were coming from, where we are now, and where we are going. It looked at the projection of the passengers, and passenger traffic has been growing at Entebbe International Airport over the years. Because of that, the facilities we previously had in place were no longer adequate, so there was a need to expand them.
So the modification of the terminal building was informed by the need to expand for better facilitation of passengers. It started earlier on, and it was completed in time for the NAM and G77+ China Summits. Because Uganda was hosting, we had to expedite the projects to open the building in time to facilitate the delegates. While we opened it, there was still work being completed on it.
There’s a floor being worked on to be used by the airlines and concessionaires, and most of the space will be dedicated to Uganda Airlines. However, the departure and arrival areas are in use. Restaurants and shops are being set up in that facility for the passengers to enjoy.
How many other airlines do you plan to operate at the airport?
Besides the additional floor, we already have various airlines occupying space in all other areas of the terminal building. Recently, we had another project completed to create space for staff offices, and they’ve been occupied. So the offices vacated can be used by other airlines and concessionaires that are providing key services at the airport.
As the industry grows, we are targeting other air operators to join Uganda’s airspace. For instance, in December 2023, we signed new bilateral air service agreements between Uganda and other countries, including Brazil, Iceland, Benin, and Algeria, which paved the way for the commencement of air transport services between Uganda and those countries.
That was coming on the heels of bilateral air service agreements with Malawi, which were done in November. That makes a total of 56 bilateral air service agreements that Uganda has with other countries. As a result of this, last year, Uganda Airlines commenced flights to Lagos, Nigeria, and India.
According to a press release from some time ago, the expansion of the airport is expected to displace a few residents neighboring the airport. How do you plan on compensating them?
That’s a long-term plan. We are not about to implement it right now. At the right time, it will not just be implemented by UCAA—we shall work closely with the government, the local leaders, stakeholders, and others, and all the necessary procedures will be followed, including the valuation of required land and when we shall need extra land for expansion.
I know when that was mentioned earlier, it caused excitement, especially in the public, but we have not yet implemented that. A master plan for Entebbe International Airport is currently undergoing review, which involves stakeholder engagements for their input. Those views will inform the next course of action, the specific projects that need to be implemented in the next couple of years, and the land needs. It’s premature to delve into those details before we complete all those processes.
Apart from EBB, how many more airports do you hope to build in the next five years?
There are plans for the upgrade and expansion of other upcountry airfields in Arua, Gulu, Kasese, Kisoro, Kidepo, and others. There’s one that’s already in the works by the government for its development, and that’s Kabalega International Airport in Hoima. That work is advanced and currently undertaken by the Ministry of Works and Transport.
When it’s completed, the airport will be handed over to UCAA for operationalization. That will become the second international airport. For Kisoro, we have plans to increase the length of the runway from 1,200 meters to longer, and in this regard, the key feasibility studies have been completed and the Ministry of Works and Transport, together with UCAA, is planning to undertake the full feasibility studies, engineering designs, and environmental and social impact studies on that particular airfield to inform the next step in its development.
For Arua, Gulu, and Kasese, engineering and master plan designs were already developed. What awaits is the funding for the actual implementation. But Kabalega International Airport will be completed within the next five years.
With the modernization of the airport facilities in the works, what new technologies should the public expect to see by the end of 2024?
In 2022, we commissioned a project for the modernization of the airport. That project was undertaken in conjunction with the Korea International Corporation Agency (KOICA). It was the implementation of a plan of US$9.5 million, and we got several outputs out of the project. One of them is the terminal operations control center, which is located at EBB. All operations staff monitor all that’s going on in all corners of the airport, and it was part of automation.
We also got upgrades in air navigation, and the technology being used now for communicating with pilots is more advanced. They’re able to transmit and share data more efficiently in real-time. The communication between our air traffic controllers and all the other aeronautical officers and pilots is enhanced as part of that project. We have made giant strides in the adoption of technology. Immigration has already installed machines on arrivals that passengers will be using. Currently, they are being pre-tested.
As long as the passengers have the new East African passports, they won’t be required to present their passports to the immigration officers on arrival but rather just scan them through the machine and exit. Users of the airport can also pay for car parking using mobile money services, so they don’t have to walk to the machine to pay for car parking.
Entebbe’s Post-Pandemic Performance
Entebbe Airport, post-pandemic, has shown growth in passenger traffic. In 2023, the airport recorded a total of 1.93 million passengers, which was higher than the 1.8 million passengers recorded in 2019, before the advent of COVID-19. This shows tremendous recovery in the aviation industry in the country.
In December 2023, the airport let through 198,000 passengers and an average of 6,400 passengers per day, which is the highest number ever handled daily since the previous high was 5,000+ passengers. The numbers are expected to continue to rise since January 2024. So far, the airport has recorded close to 4,000 passengers, and this alone is the number of delegates that visited the country. This will be added to the normal traffic in January.
In 2007, when Uganda hosted the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the airport registered a total of about 700,000 passengers. The following year, in 2008, the number of passengers increased by an additional 200,000 to 900,000 plus. This is not a coincidence, as more people come into the country through referrals to visit the country. “This boosts passenger traffic; therefore, we are optimistic that we are likely to get more traffic in the coming years,” added Mr. Luggya.
Featured image: Entebbe International Airport