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A “trusty and accomplished” to promote the air transport industry

Interview - July 11, 2014
With 13 domestic airports as well as an international airport – including another international airport on the way to serve the national oil refinery – the Civil Aviation Authority in Uganda is developing air transport infrastructure towards making the country the gateway to the East African Community. Managing Director of the CAA, Mr. Wenceslaus Rama Makuza, talks to United World.
Tell us about the evolution of this institution and the development of the sector.

We have seen that the whole purpose for the government creating the CAA has been achieved: having a capable entity that would develop and promote the air transport industry.

We have built a trusty and accomplished advisory body to the government in matters pertaining air transport. We have raised and managed properly an efficient airport infrastructure able to meet the expectations of a country that is the heart of the East African Community. Now we have an international airport and 13 domestic airports. We are now planning to have another airport of international status with a special purpose: serve the national oil refinery –based in Hoima. The special purpose is to serve the interest of the oil refinery, so it should be completed two years before the oil refinery is constructed. We are going very aggressive, with a team of my technical managers led by my deputy. We are going through the process of having a master plan study. The construction of the basic airport should be ready by December 2015. That’s how aggressive we are.

That is the part of the development of airports. Another part is providing air traffic control, and improving air traffic control services. We also, as one entity, have regulations on safety, security, and do business. Over the years, the aviation industry had been run down. The past air traffic at that time was 160 thousand, and now we rose to 1.4 million. This is big growth in the sector. We are looking forward for this to continue as the economy grows. The driver is the economy. The performance of the economy is proportional to transport growth.

Let’s focus in two areas that will interest the audience we are targeting in the US. One is the transport of goods and the other one is the transport of persons, because this is a land-locked country that wants to turn into a land-link. I would like to focus in the main attractiveness of this airport regarding transport of goods; and also, in the civil aviation aspects and tourism. Why is this important and how are you encouraging more players in the sector in this two aspects?

These two focal areas are the purpose why air transport exists. Uganda haves a comparative advantage in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries. In order to encourage exports, I have a department of marketing and commercial services. In our plan, for upgrading and expansion of the international airport, the number one facility we will look into is the construction of a modern cargo set. A plan for it has already been made. It will have a capacity for 100 thousand tons at a time. The export potential is in the European market, and the Middle East.

For tourism, potential is blessed by nature. We want others to come and see. 60% of the travelers worldwide are tourists and related. We are going to tap into that. It is an area in which there could be minimum investment with high returns. The government has taken that initiative and done a lot. The budget for 2015 has more dedication towards investment and promotion of tourism.

On the part of our own, air transport is going to be helped to have an opportunity to improve the road network. Most of the budget goes to UNRA. Now, there is also a big government project on two areas of the railway network: one, moving from the entrance from Kenya to the North, North East, and North West; and another one, coming through the central part with the standard gage. We are looking forward to tapping into that.
In addition, we are going ahead in research about how we should have air links between Uganda and the world.

What airlines are the ones you want to have?

Airlines should go fast to capture markets, and also tourists. We need as many as possible from Europe, Asia, and the US. We need the global community to visit Uganda.

How many airlines are currently operating here?

We currently have 17. Quite a number are international: British Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates, Egypt Air, Qatar Airways…others are based in the continent: South African, Ethiopian, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Rwanda.
Which are the national ones?

They are not national in the sense the government owns them. They are private sector companies based in Uganda. Air Uganda is one. Uganda Air Cargo is completely owned by the government. They transport goods, but three small sized aircrafts transport passengers. We also have Trans Afrique, which is also cargo based.

Tell me what challenges are you facing now, and in what ways more investment and international support from the US can serve to develop the sector?

The challenge is definitely infrastructural development. We would have needed more investment in airports. At the moment the government is seeking support for the expansion of the airport. Domestic challenges are also related to infrastructure; we need infrastructure a lot better than it is.

The other challenge is the training school for pilots. The former East African Community (the first one) owned a flying school. There is already a pronouncement for it to go back to the hands of the East African Community but it still needs support. The US has been very helpful to the states within East Africa Community and to programs of Safe Skies for Africa. It has also started our CASSOA. It is an abbreviation or Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency. Inspectors are scarce, and there is competition for them. We have pooled together so we can share the few experts we have. We were helped by the US. We have also had trainings in Oklahoma. We also went through technical guiding material, harmonization of regulation, and a lot of support from the Department of Transportation, and the FAA.

Then, we are looking again into further support, like the creation of a strong home-based airline. That is an area in which the US has been quite supportive through USTDA. We would still need them to come as partners or investors, not donors, to the strong home-based airlines.

How are you further developing this relation with the US?

We go hand in hand. One area of interest is the improvement of technology in air traffic management. The heads of Civil Aviation within the East African community went to Washington, Florida, Miami, Dallas, and the whole intention was to have an exposure to the new technology. It is quite expensive. Some countries are already utilizing next generation technology, like Singapore. This is an area where we will need support from the US.

As we expand with other airports, they have to be supported with air traffic controlling services. That is where we need further training. There is where we need technical support.

When are we going to see Uganda as the main gateway to the East African Community?

Very soon. We have designated five domestic airports through which you can enter in and out of Uganda. The airports we have are Entebbe International Airport, Arua Airport, Gulu Airport, Moyo Airport… From these airports you can go to tourist destinations. We are making it easier for tourists. With only one visa, you can move around the countries. If you want to go to Rwanda tomorrow, you don’t need a visa. This is coming in. We are also looking into how affordable we can make the fairs within the region. The wish is also to have a single air space. It is coming.

How do you think this kind of communication campaign we are doing with the government is going to benefit your institution?

The benefit is definitely how the outside sees you. Nobody is a near observer. Those that are the elite should come and make presentations about Uganda.

At the end of the day, a tourist or a businessman is the best ambassador of your country abroad. How are you working with the human resources in the International Airport? Because the first thing they see are the officers there.

We are trying as much as possible for immigration officers to be cautious, and costumer related. They should be more hospitable than they are. Generally, I see Ugandans are relatively friendly people. But we need more. We also need coaching.

We must have a lot of tour guides with exposure. Make sure that they have the skills to make people come and get attracted.

We also need experts. People may see potential were we don’t.

What would be the title of this interview? Something catchy!

I would just say, “Air transport as a catalyst for tourism and export growth in Uganda”.

What would be your message to the 46 African leaders that will attend the Summit in Washington next August and to the United States audience?

We need Americans to come and discover Africa.

When you think in US, you think in NY, Wall Street, or Washington. When you think France, you think Tour Eiffel, and the Louvre. When you think in Italy, you think in pizza and pasta. What would you like people to think of when they think of Uganda?

It is the starting point of the longest river in Africa. We also have Lake Victoria, the largest fresh lake in Africa, and finally, the Mountains of the Moon, with snow in the Equator. It is a small country with a multicultural setup. There are close to 52 tribes.