Amendment Of Aviation and How COVID-19 Has impacted The Aviation Industry In Uganda

September 22, 2021

At Sail Global we offer a 360 perspective on all relevant subjects and solutions to current legal challenges, in this article, we discuss in a two-phase format the new amendments to the aviation laws in Uganda and also assess the impact of COVID-19 on the aviation industry.

Uganda has revised its aviation laws and regulations, giving more functions and powers to the regulator Uganda Civil Aviation Authority. Under the Civil Aviation Amendment Act 2017 that was recently passed by parliament, the CAA now has oversight overall public and private aerodromes as well as civil aviation training schools in the country.

Noticeable on the face of the act is the change of the name of the regulatory authority from Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) as reflected on Section 3 of the Act. The Act further expounds on the functions of the rebranded authority to include advising the government on the validation of foreign air operators, operations in and out of Uganda; and on the regulation, supervision and monitoring of the activities of the National and Foreign Carriers operating in Uganda, in addition to keeping their register. The amended act puts particular emphasis on the licensing of aerodromes and their regulation of their agents, the amendment confers power on the UCAA inspectors to inspect aerodromes, air operator premises and aircraft without prior notice.

Pertinent to note is that the amendment gives additional powers to the authority as well as “quasi-judicial” mandate to issue interim regulatory directives and technical safety decisions, aviation security decrees, orders, circulars or directives to require the implementation of immediate safety and security measures to obtain evidence and issue subpoenas and affirmative statements action of compliance; to authorize the operation of aviation training schools; to validate certificates and licenses; carry out safety and security audits and inspections; and to grant, amend, modify, suspend and revoke certificates;

The amendment of the civil aviation Act also deals with the establishment of an accident investigation unit within the transport ministry that is independent of the UCAA. Once it becomes law after presidential assent, all aircraft operating within Uganda’s airspace whether they are registered in the country or not as well as private aerodromes and their service providers will be subject to regulation by the UCAA. In contrast the old Act, CAA inspectors had to first seek permission from air operators and aerodrome operators to visit their premises, for routine inspections, which often compromised Uganda’s scores in relation to Aviation Legislation in previous International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) audits.

In an attempt to concretize and operationalize the amendments several regulations have also been put in place as of March 2020, these include the Civil aviation (Aeronautical communication systems) Regulations 2020 to provide for communications necessary for the exchange of aeronautical administration messages. The civil aviation (operation of Aircraft) (Helicopter operations) Regulations 2020 which provide for aircraft operation in which aircraft is used for specialized services such as agriculture, construction, photography, surveying, observation and patrol. The civil aviation (Aeronautical radio frequency spectrum utilization) Regulations 2020 for monitoring a continuous portion of the frequency spectrum appropriate for transmission and utilizing a specified class emission. The civil aviation (Surveillance and collision avoidance systems) Regulations 2020 which will regulate a long Mode air-air surveillance interrogations.

These regulations are intended to breathe life into the amendments that were made to the action early last year and operationalize the mandate of the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority.

The aviation sector is one of the most affected areas of our economy when it comes to the effects of COVID-19 pandemic. The president on the 18th March issued a 32-day travel burn on air transport which has more or less halted commercial air transport and only left a tight window that is only open to cargo transportation by air. Diseases such as COVID-19 pose a risk to the travelling public because they can be transmitted between humans. Therefore, it is important that all involved stakeholders assist in limiting its spread by air transport. UCAA, ICAO, ACI, CANSO, IATA, TIACA, WFP and WHO have worked in close cooperation in the development of the single source for aviation-specific guidelines with the objective of ensuring appropriate planning and action at all levels in order to mitigate the effects of a human outbreak.

With that said the COVID-19 pandemic has tragically affected our aviation industry at a stage where it was beginning to gain footing, we had just amended our laws, revamped the national airline and in fact purchased and also ordered aircraft for it that were due to arrive in the country. The massive restrictions that governments have imposed on movement mean that massive numbers of flights have been cancelled, creating a huge refund liability.

Britain has calculated that globally, airlines have a $35 billion liability for tickets sold but which are unflown. In particular reference our national carrier that had begun to takeoff had to halt business following the spread of COVID-19 and the control measures put in place by various countries to contain it’s spread; In compliance with health and safety guidelines, operational requirements and regulatory obligations.

However, the cargo sector is still operating but struggling to meet demand. Passenger operations have been reduced so drastically that there is just not the capacity in the system to meet the reduced levels of air cargo. This includes vital medical shipments on which people’s lives depend. Airlines are being creative in mounting cargo operations as charters and using passenger aircraft. “On top of the “normal” process of obtaining traffic rights and landing permissions, in the current situation, we were also seeing cargo crew being delayed by quarantine restrictions designed for commercial passengers.”

Going forward however it is our considered opinion that states are obliged to establish National Air Transport Facilitation Committees to coordinate broad policy issues including responses to public health emergencies of international concern such as COVID-19. The success of such a committee requires the active participation of relevant Government ministries and/or agencies such as customs, immigration, civil aviation authorities, foreign affairs, agriculture/environment, quarantine and public health. National aviation authorities such as the UCAA need to be fully involved in the planning process to ensure that their expertise is available to the Ministry of health.

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