Government Reacts to Uganda Airlines Johannesburg Flight Ban

Uganda Airlines flights between Entebbe and Johannesburg have stabilized amidst a conflict between authorities in Uganda and South Africa that threaten to see the flag carrier blocked from Oliver Tambo International Airport.  

This arises from a protest by the South African Department of Transport on the way the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority treats applications by airline companies that seek to operate at Entebbe International Airport. The South African authorities say that the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority treats them unfairly, not in the same manner that Uganda Airlines is treated in Johannesburg, especially regarding the high airline charges at Entebbe and the lengthy certification process.

Uganda’s High Commissioner to South Africa, Ambassador Paul Amoru wrote to the Permanent Secretaries at the ministries of works and transport and of Foreign Affairs on Friday and warned that the authorities there were plotting to stop Uganda Airlines from landing at Oliver Tambo.

“When Uganda Airlines applies for a Foreign Operator’s Permit (FOP) to operate in South Africa, the South African authorities grant the permit based on the airworthiness certificate issued by the UCAA,” says the envoy, adding that the airline has to pay 1,000 Rand (about 210,000 shillings). The process, according to the letter, takes approximately two weeks to finalise. However, it is quite different, according to the letter, when a South African Airline is applying for a permit to operate at Entebbe.

“UCAA demands that their airworthiness inspectors should travel to South Africa to inspect the base operations of the airline applying for the Foreign Operator’s Permit.  The travel and subsistence costs are borne by the applying airline,” Amoru said and added that UCAA then charges the company USD 8,000 dollars (just over 30 million Shillings).

Earlier this year, the South Africa-based airlines objected to the application by Uganda Airlines and demanded a uniform regime, of either 8,000 dollars or 50 dollars (1,000 rands) for the airlines of the two countries to operate at either airport. They also demanded that the base inspections either be made uniform or scrapped.

These concerns were communicated in September to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority-UCAA but the authority had never responded, according to the Ambassador, while several exchanges on emails and telephone calls between Uganda Airlines in Uganda and in South Africa to UCAA for a solution bore no fruit. The Ambassador also accused UCAA of reluctance to “respond to official requests and correspondences on serious matters of national interest.”

Contacted for a response to these allegations, UCAA spokesman Vianney Luggya insisted that we speak to Uganda Airlines instead. Sources at Uganda Airlines at Entebbe said on Monday, the flights to Johannesburg had been cancelled and passengers booked on other flights.

Jenifer Bamuturaki, the Chief Executive Officer of Uganda Airlines, could not be reached as her known telephone lines were off the network. But Monica Rubombora, the Uganda Airlines Country Representative in South Africa, said that the Monday incident was just a normal flight delay which happens usually for technical reasons.

“It was only today’s flight that was delayed due to operational reasons, which is a common but inconvenient occurrence in the aviation industry. The rest of the week’s flights remain as per the schedule,” said Rubombora in response. On the issue of the charges and other issues under contention, she says all had been resolved, “The flights have resumed and not a single penny has been paid by UCAA or South Africa’s Department of Transport for any charge,” she said.

Uganda’s State Minister for Transport, Fred Byamukama admitted to seeing the High Commissioner’s letter but said he had failed to get a response from UCAA to help solve the issue. He said, however, that on Tuesday he got a letter from South Africa’s Department of Transport that they had allowed Uganda Airline’s license to operate at Oliver Tambo.

“I received a letter from the Transport Department of South Africa, just today at nine, saying they had granted Uganda Airlines Class 1 Type 1 Schedule for service between Entebbe and Johannesburg, five times a week,” said Byamukama.

On why the license was not renewed by October 28, when it expired, Byamukama said that the South African official told him that they could not work over the weekend.

“But I am now working backwards to find out what happened and if it is true that they are threatening to ban Uganda Airlines flights,” he said. It has been discovered that the South African company at the heart of the complaints is Airlink which commenced flights to Entebbe in June last year.

Also, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority has an outstanding claim against South African Airways-SAA, from the time before it ceased operations at Entebbe in 2020. Airlink is owned by private investors including South African Airways with a 2.96 per cent.

An internal communication in the Department of Transport of South Africa confirms receipt of a letter from the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority responding to the concerns of the airlines, which letter they will consider after consultation with both SAA and Airlink. According to the memo, Uganda Airlines will be allowed the schedule for the next month as consultations proceed.  

“While we had not finalized consultations on the charges imposed on Airlink and outstanding payments by SAA, the office of the DDG in consultations with the Chairperson of the International Air Services Council had considered and agreed on allowing Uganda Airlines interim authorization from 1 to 30 November to allow adequate consultations on the contents of the letter received on Friday.”  

It also confirmed the transmission of the Foreign Operator’s Permit for Uganda airlines the following morning (Tuesday).

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