By Samuel Sanya
Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates has completed its maiden trip to the Entebbe International Airport to strengthen ties between Uganda and the UAE.
The inaugural flight touched down at 12:50pm to a water salute. Etihad will fly into the country four times a week with return flights to Abu Dhabi, the UAE Capital using a two-cabin plane with 16 business class and 120 economy seats.
Daniel Barranger, the Etihad Airways vice president Global Sales noted that trade between Uganda to the UAE has more than doubled from $85m (sh255b) in 2009 to $176m (sh528b) in 2012.
"Uganda is one of the continents fastest growing business and tourism destinations, and the launch of services to Uganda is consistent with our strategy of targeting areas of strong growth in emerging markets," Barranger told reporters at the airport.
He noted that Etihad will launch flights to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania in December 2015. He added that the airline plans on having daily flights between Uganda and Abu Dhabi in the future.
Etihad launched a direct cargo service last year. It operates an Airbus A330-200F freighter, with a capacity of 64 metric tonnes to carry electronics, agricultural goods and textiles between Uganda and the UAE on Mondays.
Irene Wekiya, Uganda's ambassador to the UAE said the arrival of Etihad signifies great ties with the Abu Dhabi government. She noted that the addition of Etihad operations to Emirates and Fly Dubai which already ply routes to the gulf region will boost trade.
She noted that there is high demand for organic foods in the gulf which Ugandans should take advantage of. She urged the business community to open up a business consulate in the UAE to ease trade and investment between the two countries.
Wekiya tipped the business community to take advantage of low cost stalls at the Global Village exhibition in Dubai in November 2015 to sell their products to over 5 million visitors from over 100 countries around.
The Global Village exhibition is claimed to be the world's largest tourism, leisure and entertainment project.
Engineer John Kagoro Tusubira, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) director for airports and aviation security revealed that a $4.7m (sh14b) upgrade of the baggage and security screening sections of the airport is scheduled to start in July 2015.
He revealed that Ms Vanderlande Industries of Netherlands will handle the 8-month project.
"A new luggage scanner will be installed to check luggage of travellers as they fill out other necessary paperwork. We want to install the new system without inconveniencing passengers," Kagoro explained.
He added that pre-biding meetings for a new $40m (sh120b) terminal have been completed. He noted that the new terminal is part of plans to handle 6.5 million passengers in 20 years up from 1.4 million passengers presently.
The changes are part of a $400m (sh1.2 trillion) upgrade of the airport. The aircraft parking apron will be expanded from 11 to 19 sections. A longer taxi way will be constructed as well as emergency exits for planes that do not require lengthy taxing.
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Etihad to capitalize on tourism, trade traffic