The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has said despite Coronavirus disruptions including the total lockdown that saw airports closed to passengers, air cargo business flourished during the pandemic at Entebbe.
“While International passenger traffic reduced from 1,980,000 passengers in 2019 to 565,541 passengers in 2020 owing to the COVID-19 impact on air transport operations, cargo increased from 42,000 metric tonnes in 2019 to 58,898 tonnes in 2020,” Vianney Luggya, the CAA spokesperson told the Nile Post.
In his address to the country in March 2020, President Museveni that the country had closed its borders and airports to all passengers entering the country, save for goods vehicles and aircraft.
“We have decided to prohibit all passenger planes coming from outside Uganda from landing at any of the airports of Uganda. Only cargo planes will be allowed to fly in and out of Uganda,” Museveni said in a televised address to the nation.
Museveni added that relief and emergency planes belonging to the UN and humanitarian agencies will be allowed to land at specified locations.
This meant that passenger planes were not allowed into the country and according to the Airport Council International (ACI), a non-profit organization representing the world’s airports, during the first 10 months of 2020 when the pandemic was at its height, passenger traffic dropped by 63% but the on the other side, reduction in cargo growth was less dramatic, falling by only 11%.
The Uganda Civil Aviation Authority spokesperson could not agree more with this, noting that cargo operations were sustained in 2020 even during the lockdown.
“Also, several airlines thought of innovative ways of remaining in business during the suspension of commercial passenger operations by reconfiguring passenger aircraft to be used for cargo, with authorisation from regulators,”Luggya said.
Giving specifics, Luggya said Entebbe Airport handled 5,977 metric tonnes of cargo in March 2021 up from 4,766 tonnes in Feb 2021, adding a total of 58,000 tonnes were handled in 2020 compared to 42,000 in 2019.
The CAA spokesperson reasoned with some commentators that cargo is the financial backbone for any international airport or Airlines.
“That is the rationale for ongoing work for a state-of-the-art new cargo centre with capacity to handle 100,000 metric tonnes of cargo per year, but with a provision for future extension to accommodate 150,000 metric tonnes when the need arises. Fresh produce is being catered for,”Luggya noted.
Uganda Airlines’ story
Last year, the Uganda Airlines CEO , Cornwell Muleya said the national carrier had also ventured into carrying cargo during the pandemic when there were no passengers.
“So far we have been carrying cargo on these planes but for only parcels. We have been carrying material for distribution to telecom companies cooperating with courier companies across the world. This we have been doing with the Bombadier aircraft,”Muleya said in May last year at the height of the pandemic.
The Uganda Airlines CEO insisted there is a cargo plan for the national carrier in the future to help diversify business with the coming of the Airbus aircraft which have capacity to carry more cargo.
“There will be more opportunities for us to develop cargo business with the new innovations at Civil Aviation Authority to approve additional capacity on the passenger side of the aircraft. In the long terms, there have been plans to extend into freight services,”Muleya said.
He insisted that the plan hinges on development of Uganda’s economy for agro-processing and agriculture development with produce meant to be exported mostly to the European Union market.