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The East African : Aug 18th 2014
38 The EastAfrican BUSINESS AUGUST 16-22,2014 Uganda aviation is at a c≥oss≥oads; let’s clean up UCAA and ≥esto≥e t≥ust Air Uganda plane at the Entebbe International Airport. The career is one of those grounded by the civil authority. Picture: File and air navigation services. While the results of the re- cent ICAO audit have not yet been published, it remains to be seen how the UCAA performed this time and if their brutal demolition of the Ugandan aviation sector will have saved their necks or if they themselves are next to be given notice without any further ado. Ordinarily, ICAO would have to publish their audit findings within 45 days after the exercise has been concluded, a period now well expired, and that again has raised questions why ICAO should sit on the findings. After the grounding of in par- ticular Air Uganda, seats to regional destinations were suddenly in short supply, resulting in air fare increases and overbooked flights. Again it took weeks for the regulators to fathom the damage they had done to the economy of the country before then hastily granting fifth freedom rights to foreign airlines to uplift traffic from Entebbe to such destinations as Juba, where Air Uganda was the predominant airline. COMMENTARY WOLFGANG H THOME “It remains to be seen how the UCAA performed and if their demolition of the Ugandan aviation sector will have saved their necks.” J une 17, 2014 will be remembered in Ugandan aviation circles as a day of infamy, when the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) grounded all locally registered airlines from flights beyond the country’s borders; amended, in some cases backdated, existing Air Operator Certificates and in other cases withdrew them. The instant withdrawal of the AOC, as has happened to not one but three airlines, would ordinarily be a result of a series of safety and other regulatory violations. It wasn’t. Neither was there any case made to any of them about an imminent threat to the public interest. Worse, no appeal process was allowed. Subsequent public utterances attributed to the UCAA were instantly dismissed as poorly disguised attempts to hide the fact that at the end of an International Civil Aviation Organisation audit they were faced with being cited with Significant Safety Concerns. By the authorities withdrawing all AOCs for international flights, the ICAO’s jurisdiction became limited as domestic operations fall under the purview of the national regulators alone. In letters addressed to air- lines, UCAA cited the 2014 Regulations for the action. But the statutory instrument in fact was only gazetted on July 11, weeks later. This raises a legally important point to which the regulators are yet to respond. A source at UCAA claimed that “internally” they had agreed on the new regulations way back in May, and conceded that the airlines were not informed at the time of the new set of regulations coming into effect, but would not explain the loophole of the UCAA citing the new regulations as a foundation for their action before they were gazetted and the statutory instrument signed. The UCAA mouthpieces then stepped up the war of words, accusing airlines of failed safety standards, a highly unprocedural if not outright unethical way of doing business to start with — such concerns must be communicated to the airlines in writing and the June 17 letter did not contain any such allegations. Repeated interaction with the airlines soon made it obvious that the stories peddled by the regulators did not hold water and when the media finally caught on to the fact that they had been misused to disguise the truth, things began to crumble for the UCAA. Panic set in at the head office when the options of legal action were raised against both the authority and key individuals there. No one believed their version that ICAO had audited the airlines, as ICAO only deals with member state aviation bodies and not individual airlines. In conversations at the end of July with two Kajjansi-based operators, a senior manager at UCAA, when challenged on the legality of retrospectively amending AOCs to prohibit flights across national borders, said “The withdrawal of the international flights was done (a) in the public interest and (b) because it was an emergency. The reasoning here was that if Uganda failed the audit, then it would be embarrassing for the the country, and therefore, the public interest was best served by avoiding this embarrassment. It was also deemed an emergency because it would be very embarrassing.” A UCAA board meeting eventually took place at the beginning of August. Time to look at some of the facts as they are now known. The ICAO audit found several shortcomings within the UCAA structures as recorded in the June 17 letter to the airlines. The audit failures were as follows: The air operator certification as established by the Authority was not reflected in the operator’s processes and procedures. Insufficient industry surveil- lance to enable the Authority to identify shortcomings and the operator to correct non-compliances. Complacency The industry was complacent and lacked commitment to implement the terms of approval. At a meeting on June 17, the UCAA chief executive admitted that the ICAO auditors informed the Authority that they would issue an SSC on Uganda as a result of audit shortcomings. It was then that UCAA withdrew the international AOCs from the remaining three Uganda registered airlines, Air Uganda, Transafrik and Uganda Air Cargo after earlier amending the AOCs of the Kajjansi-based operators — without following the relevant Regulation 97 or Regulation 9(4). There was no warning given or any discussion held with the airlines concerned. The UCAA did not take into consideration the damage to the airlines and aviation industry. Although it was within the UCAA’s discretion to issue a temporary AOC while the recertification was being carried out under the new regulations that became valid on July 11 (as is the case in the industry worldwide), this was obviously not done so as to evade the wrath of ICAO. While this would have ensured continuity of operations for the airlines concerned, not having employed that option only lent credibility to allegations that ulterior motives were behind the UCAA decisions. The conspiracy theorists went as far as linking the authority to individuals keen to revive the defunct Uganda Airlines, probably as a result of UCAA mouthpieces admitting that UCAA had in fact handed a white paper to the government, making a case for a national airline. The fact that Air Uganda over the past almost eight years had attained the status of a quasi-national airline, the only surviving passenger airline after AfricaOne, East African and Skyjet all went bust, did not seem to matter to those intent to bring it down. Tens of millions of dollars had been invested in Air Uganda, start-up losses absorbed by the shareholders and 231 Ugandans employed, most of them highly skilled, the majority of whom are now out of a job. Calls have become louder and more persistent for the UCAA management to testify under oath. Regulatory staff in the East African region have in private also made it clear that they were at a loss over the action taken by their Ugandan colleagues. Notably though, CASSOA, the East African Community Civil Aviation Safety and Security Oversight Agency, stepped in to conduct the recertification of the affected airlines, again a sign that the powers that be no longer trust UCAA to do its job independently and fairly. The last ICAO audit of Ugan- da revealed staggering failures to adhere to international standards and those of key neighbouring countries in legislation, licensing, operations While the results of the recent ICAO audit have not yet been published, it remains to be seen how the UCAA performed Global standards In a development full of iro- ny, it has turned out that one of these airlines has not attained the industry standard of an IATA Operational Safety Audit, in short IOSA Certification, something Air Uganda had passed, first three years ago then last year. While the UCAA position is that it is their audit which counts, industry observers and Ugandan aviators were swift to point out that any airline holding IOSA Certification has surely passed global industry standards before going on to ask: “What value if any, considering the more recent events and (mis)behaviour at the UCAA, a regulator which failed half of the required pass marks in the last ICAO audit, could the Ugandan system truly add to that?” Aviation in Uganda is now at a crossroads. Tens of millions of dollars in investments, have been all but destroyed and, perhaps worse, the UCAA has lost all legitimacy and authority, notwithstanding that the word “authority” remains in their title. Leading aviators in Uganda are in agreement that trust and honest co-operation have been severely damaged if not destroyed for years to come and that they, as many in the public domain, expect a major house cleaning at the UCAA head office in coming weeks and months to provide a fresh start and a new personnel platform from where trust can slowly be restored. Will Ugandan aviation ever be the same again? Will the shareholders of the grounded airlines find the funds, or be willing to reinvest more millions of dollars in Uganda, considering the rogue treatment they received? Prof Wolfgang H. Thome is the chief correspondent for Africa and the Indian Ocean Islands, eTurboNews. He has also held senior position in the tourism sector.
Aug 25th 2014
Aug 11th 2014