Details about the passenger growth at Entebbe International Airport have now been released by the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority which besides being regulator are also owner and operator of Uganda’s main international airport. During 2013 an increase in passengers of 8.5 percent was recorded, which puts the overall passenger number to beyond 1.34 million, a figure which previous projections was due to be reached by 2018.
Domestic passenger numbers reversed a long trend of downward figures when the CAA revealed 25,458 for the year 2013 compared to just 13,780 in 2012. This is largely attributed to increased air traffic by tourists but also regular flying for the oil companies exploring in the Albertine Rift.
Transit traffic, an area where Entebbe traditionally falls short of the performance of other regional airports, also improved from 89,798 to 94,583 passengers, who connected via Entebbe to such destinations like Juba, Rwanda, Eastern Congo and elsewhere.
The positive performance in the statistics however also poses an increased challenge to the airport managers, as the airport only has four gates, which are accessed through 2 security check points, causing “traffic jams” during peak periods of departures from Entebbe to the exasperation of many passengers. Getting into the terminal to start with is a challenge, as passengers have to walk several hundred meters as the car drop off is now restricted to diplomatic vehicles and government vehicles only, leaving travelers to “schlepp” their baggage by trolley or hand to the one available staircase, with no escalators or elevators available for physically challenged passengers, the elderly without support or those travelling with small children. When then finally approaching the terminal entrance, again during peak periods long queues are experienced outside the doors, leaving departing passengers often exposed to rain or bright sunshine, causing discomfort, upset and in the end anger when the queues move too slowly.
The last major expansion and modernization of Entebbe took place in the run up to the Commonwealth Summit in 2007 but there is now broad agreement, that the Ugandan CAA has been dragging their feet in pushing ahead with the next phase of expansion as was foreseen back then, leaving the ranking and rating for Entebbe, once seen as an airport of short ways and quick service to be sinking to the bottom of the performance lists in East Africa.
“Unless your CAA does something urgently now, the situation will be as congested as Nairobi is, except they are getting big time relief when their new Terminal 4 is ready and when the new temporary terminal is opened. Here in Entebbe we only see things to get worse because they still talk of master plans. We are tired of hearing of plans we need action and they let us and themselves down,” ranted an airline manager before shooting off another broadside: “They take 40 dollars for each departing passenger as airport tax and when several flight leave at the same time at night, many of our passenger feel like they are herded like a flock of sheep. And rude officials often then add to the bad experience. It is not a nice farewell to people who have come to track gorillas or visit friend and relatives or even business travelers. There the contrast to the modern airports in Europe and the Gulf is the biggest, no separate processing of premium passengers through security and immigration. They pay high fares and have no special facilities. Bad, bad, bad.”
Thus shows itself the upside of growing traffic vis-a-vis the downside of overstretched facilities at peak periods, the success in adding numbers versus the failure to add new structures in a timely fashion. A rare case of bouquets and barbs delivered together it seems.