Uganda’s only international airport at Entebbe suffered a major power outage on Tuesday night, disrupting operations and delaying landing and departing flights.
Highly placed sources at the airport told this newspaper that electricity terminated in the early evening and landing lights went off too, holding an approaching Uganda Airlines plane up in the skies for half an hour.
Staff reportedly improvised lighting to illuminate the runway to aid the plane’s safe touchdown.
The departure of a Qatar Airways aircraft was delayed by about three hours, another source said, adding that the blackout had wide-ranging impact on internal and flight operations.
For instance, the official Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) emailing system collapsed, individuals familiar with the situation intimated, but the air safety regulator dismissed the account.
UCAA spokesman Vianney Luggya, while confirming the power failure and resulting flight delays, said it did not affect internal communication.
“On September 28, at around 7.05pm, power supply to the ground airfield lights went off, leading to power fluctuations. As a result, there was delayed landing of an incoming Uganda Airlines flight from N’djili International Airport (in Kinshasa), which had to first go-round until the power supply to the airfield lights was stabilised. It safely landed 20 minutes later,” he said.
Initial reports had suggested that the Uganda Airlines plane was returning from Somalia.
In his explanation, Mr Luggya said “preliminary indications are that the problem arose from an underground cable connecting to the airfield lighting system, which is undergoing repairs”.
“It led to tripping of the circuit breaker for the newly-installed remote-controlled system for airport lighting. The new remote-control system has been in use on test/trial basis since August 13, and is expected to be officially commissioned in October after completion of a change management process,” he added.
The sudden plunge into darkness prompted airport officials to activate emergency safety protocols and operational procedures, including measures to mitigate likely adverse ramifications of the power failure.
They hoped to avoid a recurrence.
Mr Luggya regretted the flight disruptions, which he said is expected in the aviation industry.
“It is safer to delay a flight for corrective action”, he said, “than rush and risk the safety of passengers and crew.”
Earlier in May, fire broke out near fuel tankers at the airport after a diesel-powered pump, whose drainage tube disengaged from the pump, caused the jet fuel to spill, thereby triggering the fire. It was, however, immediately contained.