The Civil Aviation Authority was spot on when it invited ordinary Ugandans to not only see planes at close range but also to fly at Entebbe International airport last weekend.
It's not surprising that very many people turned up. But CAA and the government need to address bottlenecks that make it impossible for some Ugandans to ever take a flight in their lives, even a domestic one.
For instance, why are the ground handling costs at Entebbe said to be some of the highest in the world? Why is the 50-minute trip between Entebbe and Nairobi one of the most expensive short routes in the world? Why are the upcountry airfields still undeveloped long after the government said a couple of them would be upgraded?
If such challenges are addressed, many more Ugandans will not have to wait for a CAA-organised event to sit in a plane and fly. They will be able to afford a ticket for the flight from Arua, Kisoro, Gulu, Kasese to Entebbe, etc. Driving a vehicle from Kampala to Kisoro takes about seven hours and requires, to and fro, at least Shs 600,000 in fuel.
That sum should be more than sufficient for a lone traveller's return ticket. Not only would they make it in less than one hour, they would be spared the exhaustion of the person who drove all the way. And the roads would be spared one extra vehicle!
But upcountry airfields would have to be upgraded and perhaps another airport built nearer Kampala. Given the distance and the traffic situation, it is inconvenient for domestic travellers, most of whose destination is Kampala, to have to go through Entebbe airport. In the end, the journey between Entebbe and Kampala ends up taking longer than the flight from Kisoro to Entebbe!
Many cities all over the world have such airports, including Nairobi's Wilson airport. Uganda's planners need to seriously think about it. More so, as a landlocked country with great tourism potential, the return of the national airline might be in Uganda's best interest. If only government officials could avoid the pitfalls that sent it underground several years ago!