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Foreign financiers troop to Uganda, eye new air transport master plan

Tuesday November 5 2013

The Entebbe International Airport. Players in Uganda’s aviation sector are upbeat about prospects for the financing of a planned revamp and expansion of the airport.  Photo/Morgan Mbabazi

The Entebbe International Airport. Players in Uganda’s aviation sector are upbeat about prospects for the financing of a planned revamp and expansion of the airport. Photo/Morgan Mbabazi Nation Media Group

By MICHAEL WAKABI The EastAfrican

Players in Uganda’s aviation sector are upbeat about prospects for the financing of a planned revamp and expansion of the Entebbe International Airport, as demand for air services continues to outstrip capacity.

Even before consultants hired last week get down to defining the specific needs of Uganda’s civil aviation sector for the next 20 years, news of the new master air transport plan has attracted early interest.

Sources at the country’s Civil Aviation Authority said that delegations from Canada, China and Malaysia have already visited Uganda to discuss possible financial participation, whose scope will be available in six months’ time, when the consultants complete their work. The $273,000 study will determine a preferred funding model for the different activities under the air transport plan.

“It is true we have had several approaches from different parties offering to fund the plan but it is premature to say much because we have not come to a point of discussing specifics,” a senior figure at the authority said.

On October 21, the CAA announced that Spanish transport engineering firm Ineco had been selected as consultants to develop the new 20-year master plan for the sector.

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It succeeds the current 20-year plan due to expire in 2022, but of which some elements have been overtaken by events such as growing demand. The new plan will run from 2014 to 2033, and is expected to dovetail with the country’s National Vision 2040 Strategy.

“We already have a capacity challenge at Entebbe, and the recent growth trajectory demands that we re-examine our options,” said Ignie Igundura, corporate affairs manager at Uganda’s CAA.

CAA managing director Rama Makuza said passenger traffic at Entebbe overtook projections just one year into the current master plan, and the 1.4 million passengers recorded so far this year are closer to the projected figures for 2019. Today, the airport handles 21 international airlines. Rising frequency of flights is exerting pressure on the departures section.

At a function to mark the start of the study, Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi said consistent economic growth and a rapidly converging region demand that the air transport sector be positioned to play a more efficient role in Uganda’s economy.

“The economy has registered an average annual real GDP growth rate of 7.5 per cent over the past 25 years. On the regional scene, the East African Community is fast integrating and markets are opening to our exports. As East Africans pursue the single-sky dream, the time to plan for more modern facilities is now,” said Mr Mbabazi.

Uganda’s exports grew 714 per cent between 1986 and 2010, with revenues rising from a paltry $406 million to $3.291 billion respectively.

Uganda’s neighbours have also been pursuing ambitious projects to uplift their air transport infrastructure over the past few months. Last week, Kenya said it had secured nearly all the funds it needs to construct a temporary terminal, clearing the way for the planned expansion of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

On October 24, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) said it had approved Ksh2.3 billion ($27.1 million) for the project, leaving the government with a financing gap of Ksh43 million ($0.5 million).

The urgency to build the temporary terminal was necessitated by the destruction caused by a fire that gutted the airport’s international arrivals section on August 7, rendering it unusable.

The prefabricated airport terminal had, however, been planned even before the fire, according to Kenya Airports Authority (KAA). This was part of an ambitious Ksh60 billion ($705.8 million) growth plan for the airport aimed at expanding its infrastructure as it seeks to cement its position as one of Africa’s key hubs alongside Ethiopia and South Africa.

Data from the Kenya Airports Authority indicates that the annual growth of passengers using JKIA is 12 per cent. The airport currently handles about eight million passengers and 300,000 tonnes of cargo traffic annually.

It is expected that passenger numbers will grow to 17.1 million by 2020 and 35 million by 2030, the year Kenya hopes to have achieved the status of a newly industrialised country. To meet the growing demand, the government is planning a greenfield airport to be completed by 2017.

“There are three serious financiers who have expressed interest and we are evaluating them to make a final decision,” said Cabinet Secretary for Transport and Infrastructure, Michael Kamau.

Tanzania is planning a multimillion-dollar transformation of its Kilimanjaro International Airport with an eye to developing it into a regional hub. The project will see all runways, aprons, taxiways and passenger lounges refurbished to offer holidaymakers a hassle-free trip to the northern Tanzanian tourist circuit.

Rwanda, on the other hand, plans to build a new airport — the Bugesera International Airport — some 25km southeast of Kigali at a cost of $350 million.

Additional reporting by Steve Mbogo

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