Entebbe airport resumes operations after a 20-hour flight stoppage
Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA), the country’s aviation authority, announced Sunday night the temporary closure of Entebbe’s sole international airport.
“Flights [to and from the airport] are now suspended,” UCCA public relations manager Vianney Luggya informed this publication just after midnight.
The closure came as a result of an early morning incident in which a RwandAir aircraft, RWD 464, veered off the new runway 17/35 and into a grass area.
The airline and UCAA both indicated that around 60 people deplaned safely.
Travel mayhem and stampedes occurred among people trapped at the airport as the regulator overturned its nightly warning to airmen, dubbed Notam, that it was safe to land and take off after the incident.
According to informed sources, UCAA first suspended incoming flights due to the accident plane’s tail and wing being closer to the runway, but after an examination, it encouraged pilots to fly in and land with “caution.”
This spurred a number of airlines to send flights to Uganda, including Saudi Airlines, which sent a commercial jet to pick up Muslims performing minor pilgrimage, or Umrah, to the holy sites of Mecca and Medina during the current Ramadan.
SN Brussels passengers had already been checked in when UCAA issued another Notam suspending operations at Entebbe International Airport, diverting mid-air Fly Dubai, Ethiopian, and Kenyan Airways flights.
M.r Luggya, in a WhatsApp update made to this reporter at 12:19 a.m., confirmed our information, noting that: “Due to safety considerations, Entebbe International Airport’s runway 17/35, which was previously restored for operations, has been temporarily closed.”
“Arrangements had been made for planes to land and take off safely, but when withdrawing the RwandAir aircraft from the runway strip (grassland), it became stuck closer to the runway, necessitating a reconsideration of the earlier clearance,” he observed.
“Efforts are being made to rectify this as quickly as possible,” Mr Luggya continued. The public will be kept informed of any changes in this area in the near future. Inconveniences are resented greatly.”
This narrative raised the following outstanding questions: For example, why does Entebbe airport lack towing equipment and only has one runway for commercial flights?
There were conflicting accounts of why the RwandAir jet went off the runway shortly after landing from Nairobi at 5:31 a.m.
UCAA blamed wet and inclement weather, a claim that several aviation experts disputed, claiming that weather-related visibility issues or turbulence would have more likely prevented the landing completely.
Additionally, a Turkish Airlines flight took out from Entebbe Airport hours earlier, in worse weather and environmental circumstances than when the stricken airliner touched down.
Another senior source informed on the issue noted the poor condition of runway 17/35, which, among other things, lacks proper marking to advise pilots, as a hazard to aircraft safety.
“The runway’s markings, surface, and design all contribute to the accumulation of water on the runway. Additionally, when aircraft land, the tyre fragments gather on the runway, smoothing it out. When combined with the runway 17/35’s poor surface, this results in aircraft landing at Entebbe airport losing traction when pilots use the brakes, sliding off the runway,” the insider stated.
Separately, another source acquainted with airport operations told this newspaper that concerns about the runway’s condition were reviewed by senior UCAA management in February, and measures to upgrade it have stalled.
Prior to that, on October 14, 2021, a United Emirates pilot lodged a complaint about the runway surface’s quality, the absence of markings, and the infrequent updating of the Automatic Terminal Information Service, which is supposed to be a 24-hour deluge of information about airport conditions to inform landing and departure decisions.
In 2020, at the height of Covid-19, China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), a Chinese contractor, resurfaced Runway 17/35 as part of phase one of the $200 million upgrading of Entebbe International Airport.
We were unable to communicate with CCCC authorities about the purported quality problems surrounding the repaired runway before press time.
The engineering work comprised the building of a cargo complex and a new terminal, as well as the resurfacing of the runway, taxiways, and aprons and the repair of the water supply.
When questioned about assertions that the runway is substandard and contributed to the RwandAir jet skidding off, Mr Luggya said that the only way to resolve the counter-claims is by “a thorough, non-partisan examination.”
“Yesterday’s weather was inclement, but it may not have been the only culprit. That is why a thorough investigation is critical, and one has begun to determine the cause of the occurrence,” he added by phone.
The most recent significant landing-related event at Entebbe airport, which resulted in the airport’s operations being suspended for many hours, occurred after an Ethiopian Airlines flight overshot the runway.
A fire incident at the airport last year momentarily halted operations.
Mr Luggya said just before 3 a.m. on Thursday that RwandAir planes had been removed from the runway and flights had been allowed to restart.
“Flights into and out of Entebbe International Airport have been cleared to resume after the successful evacuation of the Rwanda Air aircraft from the runway strip,” he tweeted at 2:44 a.m.
However, aviation experts were perplexed by the inability to recover a careered jet for over 20 hours, resulting in the temporary closure of the country’s sole international airport.
No aircraft landed or left from the site yesterday as a result of the event, resulting in considerable business and financial losses.
Due to the stranding of outgoing travelers, hotels on the peninsula were allegedly overbooked.
Other travelers, whether they were strapped for cash or preparing for critical work trips, flocked to Twitter to express their anguish and dissatisfaction. Some posted images of interested coworkers huddling at the counters seeking answers.
“Passengers delayed at Entebbe Airport after aircraft cancellations due to a runway issue. “I’m hoping that the appropriate authorities can handle this soon while communicating properly and promptly,” Mr Crispin Kaheru, a commissioner of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, a statutory rights monitor, tweeted.