UGANDA (eTN) – Entebbe International Airport remains the region’s highest-priced handling location for airlines as dominant player ENHAS has to contend only with DAS Handling, which maintains itself through a handling contract from Kenya Airways (KQ) but not much more, and that one courtesy of a major row a few years ago between KQ and some of ENHAS’ shareholders who had tried – and ultimately failed miserably – to establish a competing airline in Uganda.
A source close to the Civil Aviation Authority, when following up on earlier stories here, intimated that they would be happy to grant a concession for self handling to applicants who can show that they have the capacity, and the modern equipment required, to “handle themselves,” casting aside past assertions that “there was no space to park the equipment of a third handler, even if it is a self handler.”
For those with eyes to see, and the ability to analytically compare charges say effective in Nairobi with Entebbe, it is obvious that powerful interests are behind this situation, as was apparent back in the 1990s. The single profitable unit of the then Uganda Airlines (QU), its ground handling unit, was hived off in an exercise, which lacked transparency and international bidding at the expense of a “most favorite disposal” method. QU soon afterwards went into a financial tailspin from which it never recovered and was ultimately wound up when bidders from abroad got cold feet over political influence peddling and financial viability of a major investment in what used to be Uganda’s national airline.
Airlines since then have been paying the price for this and while undoubtedly ENHAS has the infrastructure and invested regularly in facilities and new equipment, they nevertheless did so at a cost to their users.
Said the source after frantically seeking a guarantee of not to expose the individual’s identity for fear of repercussions and consequences: “Some airlines have been applying for self handling for a long time now. I think that fundamentally we should not listen to or be pressured by what is essentially a competitor or at the very least someone maybe losing a customer. This issue has even been raised at the Investor Round Table the president holds every so often. I think it is time to take a decision and let some go on their own; times have changed, and we cannot and should not be kept at ransom over political threats.
“Aviation is a major industry, and Entebbe will have to follow the example of Nairobi. If we are to get a lot more traffic, handling must be costing similar like Nairobi and not twice as much in some cases we have been made aware of. We have to put our country, Entebbe’s benefit, before individual benefit. Self handling by the way is not for free; the airline must pay concession fees to CAA [Civil Aviation Authority], so it will not be a loss of income for CAA as has been falsely suggested to higher authorities.”
Final decisions, it has been reliably learned, could be made within weeks.