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    HomeNewsEXCLUSIVE: Chaos, Accidents as Entebbe Airport Fails International Security Test

    EXCLUSIVE: Chaos, Accidents as Entebbe Airport Fails International Security Test

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    Entebbe International Airport has failed a critical test by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a move that brings the country’s only international airport closer to being blacklisted for international airlines.

    ChimpReports has learned that in March, ICAO, an international body that creates regulations for aviation safety, conducted a mock check of Entebbe Airport’s security.

    During the mock exercise, ICAO quietly discovered that Entebbe Airport lacked fire trucks.

    This was because the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) had secretly borrowed fire trucks from regional airports, the police, and the UPDF to mislead ICAO.

    Interestingly, ICAO experts realised that the fire truck drivers were not accustomed to the rules of driving at the airport.

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    For example, these fire truck drivers drove dangerously at the airside (the part of an airport used by aircraft for loading and unloading and takeoffs and landings, such as runways, taxiways, aprons, and ramps).

    Experienced airside drivers must be able to identify aerodrome markings, lighting, and signage and comply with health and safety measures, which was not the case with the ones ICAO saw at Entebbe Airport.

    ICAO is set to conduct a comprehensive security check at Entebbe Airport in September 2023.

    If security concerns discovered at Entebbe are not sorted out on time, officials say the airport could lose its international security status, which would be a huge blow to Uganda’s aviation and tourism sectors.

    International airlines could be compelled to stop flights to Entebbe Airport.

    Scandal

    An investigation by ChimpReports has discovered that during the ICAO mock check, the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) hurriedly moved fire trucks from Soroti and Gulu regional airfields to Entebbe without the knowledge of Samuel Wonekha, the General Manager of regional airports.

    Upon learning of the development, Wonekha directed Benedict Ovura, the Airports Operations Officer, to issue a NOTAM (Notice to All Airmen) downgrading Entebbe Airport’s firefighting security status.

    “Starting 16th till 19th March 2023, Entebbe Rescue and Fire Fighting Services Category 9 downgraded to category 7,” the NOTAM issued by Uvura read in part.

    A NOTAM is a notice containing information essential to personnel concerned with flight operations but not known far enough in advance to be publicized by other means.

    It states the abnormal status of a component of the National Airspace System (NAS) – not the normal status.

    Following the issuance of NOTAM about the poor status of firefighting and rescue services at Entebbe Airport on March 16, Emirates and KLM did not fly to Entebbe.

    Turkish Airlines delayed its flight to Entebbe that day.

    The scandal has left UCAA with an egg on its face.

    Accident

    ChimpReports understands that while rushing a firetruck from Soroti Airfield to Entebbe Airport, the vehicle was involved in an accident.

    This was confirmed by several UCAA officials, including the Principal Transport and Maintenance Officer, Nicholas Tayebwa.

    He disclosed in an email to top management that the Soroti Fire Truck T17 was enroute to Entebbe when the “accident happened on the night of March 16, 2023, along the Kumi-Paliisa highway between Kanyum and Mkongoro towns.”

    According to Tayebwa’s confidential security report, the “truck overturned and rolled 25 meters away from the tarmac.”

    The two occupants of the firetruck, Simon Okoboi and Joel Aweny, survived death miraculously.

    Okoboi, a fireman, sustained a deep cut on his leg.

    As the drama unfolded, some top UCAA managers suggested a cover-up.

    In an email dated March 19, 2023, UCAA Air Traffic Manager, Geoffrey Okot, charged: “If you have internally secured the fire trucks from Gulu and Soroti, why do we have to send the NOTAM?”

    Okot said, “The movement of trucks from Gulu and Soroti is internal to UCAA,” adding, “If securing the trucks is completed to ensure continuous fire services, why do we have to send the NOTAM and publicise the challenges we have?”

    However, insiders told ChimpReports that the culture of covering up UCAA’s incompetence and corruption continues to cause more problems at Entebbe Airport.

    “These issues need to come up so that they are addressed,” said a source who preferred anonymity to speak freely.

    “Uncoordinated movement”

    On his part, Wonekha, told colleagues in a March 18 email to top management that “redeployment of regional fire trucks from Gulu and Soroti airports to Entebbe International Airport required prior coordination.”

    The withdrawal of fire trucks left Soroti and Gulu airfields vulnerable in emergency situations.

    Wonekha said “these airports (regional) are facilitating both military and civil training,” emphasising, “the lack of coordination and planning on what should be done prior to trucks being deployed away from these stations is a grave mistake.”

    He also defended his decision to issue a NOTAM, saying “issuing of NOTAMs that such services are not available is not debatable.”

    Wonekha also ordered Ovura to “adhere to all procedures to have NOTAMs in place,” arguing that “these are some of the occurrences where aviation security must promptly act.”

    He also pointed out that the drama unfolding at UCAA could have repercussions for Entebbe Airport during the certification process conducted by ICAO.

    “In the spirit of Entebbe Airport certification, I will reserve many questions. I don’t see how such plans to redeploy assets from my area of jurisdiction can take place without my knowledge, even my designate’s,” said Wonekha.

    The matter has since attracted the attention of UCAA’s Deputy Director General, Olive Birungi Lumonya, who said it was “unfortunate” that Wonekha was “not consulted before the decision was made” to remove fire trucks from Soroti and Gulu airfields.

    In an email dated March 19, Lumonya cautioned UCAA staff: “As a team, we shall further brainstorm and agree on how best to avoid misguided missiles and contradicting communication.”

    She added: “All accounting officers, no matter whether in an acting position or not, must be informed about the high-risk red flags, even if they are not required procedure-wise.”

    ChimpReports understands that UCAA Director General, Fred Bamwesigye wrote to the Chief Mechanical Engineer at the Works Ministry requesting a crane, breakdown truck, and low loader to move the Soroti Fire truck from Kumi to Kampala for repair.

    Bamwesigye’s letter to Works Ministry

    While UCAA’s Principal Transport and Maintenance Officer, Nicholas Tayebwa, said the Soroti Fire Truck “overturned and rolled 25 meters away from the tarmac,” Bamwesigye, in his letter to the Works Ministry, said the vehicle “got a major breakdown” between Kumi-Paliisa road.

    The Ugandan taxpayer will foot the bill for the truck’s “major repairs” at Spear Motors Kampala.



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