Authorities in Gulu have said they are struggling to attract commercial flights at Gulu airport due to negative perceptions about the facility by the business community.
Located, about three kilometres north-west of the central business district of Gulu, the largest metropolitan area in Acholi sub-region, and 303 kilometres north of Entebbe International Airport, the airport is one of the twelve upcountry airports authorized to handle cross-border air traffic between Uganda and neighbouring countries.
But the airport, established in the 1960s’ was only active between 1986 to 2006, when it was often used for the transport armaments and humanitarian aid and workers, at the height of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in Northern Uganda.
In early 2000, a Kampala based Eagle Air operated regional domestic passenger and cargo flights between the districts of Gulu, Kitgum, Arua to Entebbe International Airport and Juba in South Sudan. But their operations were short-lived, rendering the airport redundant until 2019 when a privately owned airline; Sky Travel and Aviation introduced commercial flights between Gulu, Entebbe and South Sudan’s capital, Juba.
Gulu district chairperson Martin Ojara Mapenduzi says that they approached David Mpango Kakuba, the Managing Director of Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA), who divulged that a study conducted in Acholi revealed little attention to air transport.
Mapenduzi said the authority implored them to rally the business community to embrace commercial flights. However, he adds that political interference, compounded by the outbreak of infectious Covid-19 early this year, freighted some flight companies that had expressed interest in using the airport.
But former legislator Livingstone Okello-Okello castigated the government for the delayed restoration and expansion of Gulu airport ever since the 1990s when then National Resistance Council (NRC) blocked the French Government from revamping the airport to international standards.
With the attainment of city status, John Charles Luwa, the interim Gulu City Economic Planner disclosed that they have earmarked 100 million Shillings to undertake mass sensitization in Acholi to inspire the business community to exploit available investment opportunities.
Last year, President Yoweri Museveni directed the Civil Aviation Authority, Ministry of Works and Transport to revamp Gulu airport to international standards in an attempt to boost the economic recovery and development in Northern Uganda.
The facilities that need renovation include the construction of a larger passenger terminal building, a new car park, access roads, and cargo operations facilities including additional runway lights, fire and rescue services infrastructure, air navigation and traffic control systems.