President Museveni has demanded action against Ugandan Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) officials responsible for what he was told were less than satisfactory security measures at the international airport of Entebbe.
In a letter to the Minister of Public Works and Transport, General Katumba Wamala, the political head of the aviation sector, the President highlighted multiple concerns for which he demanded immediate responses.
This follows the findings of an ad hoc investigation by the State House anti-corruption unit headed by Brigadier Henry Isoke which Mr Museveni commanded following an April 20 incident in which a plane of RwandAir skidded off the runway, crippling flights at Entebbe airport for hours.
Authorities blamed the accident on bad weather. However, in his letter, a copy of which this newspaper has seen, the president said he wanted technical and structural problems with the country’s aviation regulator, which may be partly responsible for the incident, to be resolved. .
“Whether the pilot made a mistake or not, I’m more interested in the mistakes of [U]CAA and airport management,” he noted.
Copy of letter to Vice President Jessica Alupo, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja, Attorney General Kiryowa Kiwanuka, Minister of Defense and Veterans Affairs Vincent Ssempijja, and Chief of Defense Forces Wilson Mbadi, among others.
The Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Public Works, Mr. Bageya Waiswa, confirmed the President’s letter in an interview, but said he was not the right authority to comment on the matter. He referred us to General Katumba, who was unavailable at press time.
The April 20 incident at RwandAir resulted in the UCAA suspending, for at least 20 hours, outbound and inbound flights, a gathering of passengers at Entebbe airport and a social media storm.
The delay in removing the downed plane, which prompted the government to call on the UPDF for help, exposed the fact that the aviation regulator lacked equipment to rescue, debug or recover the planes.
“Why don’t they (UCAA) have equipment to remove damaged planes? What is their job then? wrote the president.
UCAA general affairs manager Vianney Luggya, in a written response to our inquiries, said it is not entirely true that the regulator does not have equipment. “It is not accurate to say that the airport has no disabled aircraft removal equipment at all. Airport handling agents have tow tractors and tow bars,” he wrote.
He said, however, that in the future it will be necessary for the airport to acquire the Rapid Aircraft Recovery system, which is best suited to handle the new generation of larger, heavier and more modern aircraft designs.
“Deployment of the Rapid Aircraft Recovery System will be at the request of aircraft operators, as the recovery of the disabled aircraft is the direct responsibility of the aircraft owner or aircraft operator in accordance with global aviation procedures,” Mr. Luggya added.
This newspaper understands that the UCAA sent an official response to the president about his demands, but details were not readily available.
In his response yesterday, Mr Luggya said the UCAA had studied the financial implications and intended to seek government assistance in acquiring the equipment.
In his letter, Museveni had also asked why the UPDF, which operates a number of fighter jets under the Air Force, had never acquired equipment to remove damaged planes.
Daily Monitor, citing a senior source, had in an earlier briefing revealed that the accident could have been caused by faults on the track which was resurfaced in 2020 as part of the first phase of the 200 million upgrade dollars from the airport.
Our sources at the time indicated that runway 17/35 had no markings to guide pilots and that its design was faulty.
“The runway has poor markings, surfacing and design which leads to water accumulating on the runway. And as the planes land, tire particles accumulate on the runway making it smooth. Combined with the poor surfacing of Runway 17/35, this means planes landing at Entebbe Airport fail to gain traction when pilots apply the brakes, causing planes to skid off the runway. “said the source.
In a meeting with the management of this newspaper after the article was published, UCAA officials led by Managing Director Fred Bamwesigye denied any faults with the new infrastructure upgrades, dismissing the allegations. as misinformed.
Runway 17/35 was resurfaced in 2020 during the first lockdown introduced as a Covid-19 containment measure.
Work on the runway was carried out by Chinese construction company, China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), as part of the first phase of the $200 million upgrade of Entebbe International Airport.
Sources inside the UCAA had at the same time told the Daily Monitor that issues regarding the quality of the track had been discussed by UCAA management in February and plans had been drawn up to improve it. , but remained on paper.
The State House Anti-Corruption Unit team led by Brig Isoke in its findings appeared to corroborate what the Daily Monitor reported.
The Isoke team’s report to Mr Museveni reportedly angered UCAA senior management who questioned the professional competence of the aviation investigators.
“What is called an investigation was not an investigation at all. The compulsory investigation in the event of an aviation accident is carried out by an office of the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in liaison with other international bodies This investigation has taken place,” a UCAA official said, without sharing the findings.
Brig Isoke’s investigation has nevertheless revived controversy around the faults and lack of lighting on the airport’s main runway.
Based on the findings, the President in the letter to Minister Katumba wrote, “Second, why didn’t they rectify the softness of the tape near the runway.”
International civil aviation rules require the ground along a runway to be considerably firmed with compacted gravel, which our investigations found was not the case.
Mr Luggya told the Daily Monitor that said tape had been worked on. “The actual runway strip where RwandaAir got stuck has been worked on and the entire runway strip will be worked on during the implementation of Phase II of the works,” Mr. Luggya said.
He added that the aviation regulator had, at the start of the airport expansion project, carried out studies which revealed that there was a need to upgrade the runway. The planned upgrade is scheduled for the second phase of the airport expansion.
Mr Museveni also raised issues with the state of lighting on the runways.
“Why isn’t the old runway lit for landing at night?” ” He asked.
Mr Luggya acknowledged that the secondary runway at the old airport is not used for night operations, but a portable airfield lighting system can make it usable whenever the need arises.
“Due to the splitting of the (airport expansion) project into two phases, the installation of the lighting system of (the secondary runway), its associated taxiways with approach path indicators of precision at both ends of the runway is planned to take place in Phase II of the project. This needs to be prioritized during implementation,” he noted.