The current supply of AVGAS, an aviation fuel mainly used by light-single and twin-engine aircraft operating with the traditional piston engines, has run out again in Uganda, and similar reports are coming in from Kenya. A large number of light aircraft, in particular those used in general aviation and by private owners, depends on AVGAS supplies in order to fly, and with prices skyrocketing as a result of globally-risen crude oil prices and the devaluation of the Uganda shilling, flying is fast becoming a luxury few can afford, and those who still can, might lack the fuel to take off.
Various air operators this correspondent spoke with in Kajjansi and at Entebbe have confirmed that they are once more trying to get AVGAS from Tanzania in drums, as supplies apparently are still available there, while they also speak of a deafening silence by Shell, the country’s main aviation fuel supplier over the why, where, and when fuel will be available again.
Mr. Tim Cooper of Ndege Juu Africa, based at the Kajjansi airfield, made the following statement to this correspondent: “Ndege Juu Africa deplores Shell’s appalling planning and management of fuel stocks for Uganda’s small but vital aviation sector. Once again, we find ourselves in a situation in which AVGAS fuel has run out, and unbelievably – especially for a company of Shell’s status – they have no idea when fuel will become available again.”
It seems Shell is content to allow Uganda’s piston-engined aircraft to be grounded. Amazingly, Shell didn’t even bother to warn aviation companies that Avgas was about to run out.
Ndege is working with KAFTC to secure fuel stocks from BP in Tanzania where interestingly there is no shortage of Avgas.
“If Shell has no interest in supplying aviation companies with fuel then it should say so,” said Ndege director, Tim Cooper, then adding, “There is certainly the opportunity for a company that is more serious than Shell to offer Uganda’s aviation industry with a reliable source of fuel and lubricants.”
It is also understood from sources in Kenya that the ship bringing fresh AVGAS supplies is still at sea, and no one could say with any degree of certainty when the aviation fuel would be available again in Kenya, leave alone in Uganda. Said one Kenyan aviator known to this correspondent for his tongue in cheek replies: “Just wait – the fuel companies will blame it on piracy next, which will be a scapegoat, while the truth is they want to abandon AVGAS because it is a small market compared with JetA1, so they are more and more squeezing us over supplies, but remember, we have hundreds of light aircraft registered in Kenya, in East Africa, which depend on AVGAS. Maybe it is time to bring government in and tell them what these fuel companies are up to, almost conspiring I should think. Parked planes cost us money, and with no AVGAS, we cannot fly those planes. It is especially bad for the safari flying sector, now that business has picked up again, but no one listens until it is too late again. Our politicians suck.”
A source within the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority did mention on condition of absolute anonymity, that while they were concerned about the implications of the AVGAS fuel shortage, they themselves could do little, as the importation and distribution of aviation fuels was vested in private companies. However, it was also learned that the CAA does levy a fraction of a percent on aviation fuels sold at Entebbe and that providers under their terms and conditions of contract with the CAA must ensure that sufficient stock of aviation fuel, AVGAS, and JetA1 are always available to ensure constant flight operations, a condition not met this time and many times before, however. The CAA source would not be drawn into a discussion regarding what measures the UCAA might employ to enforce compliance with the terms and conditions of the contract, nor if they would react at all or what other measures they were considering to ensure AVGAS supplies were available in the country for the sizeable number of aircraft on the Ugandan registry still using this type of fuel.
Safari operators have also voiced their concern over the escalating cost of the fuels driving charter fares up and the lack of fuel for the commonly-used smaller aircraft like the Cessna 206, the Cessna 210, or smaller twin-engine aircraft used to fly tourists to the national parks to spare them the road journeys.
No comments were forthcoming from the Ministry of Tourism, nor from the government at large, many departments of which appear blissfully unaware of the shortage and its impact on tourism and business flights across the country or the wider region. Said again an aviation source in regular contact with this correspondent on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals: “That ministry has no clue, they are not even aware what is going on under their noses. And the tourism sector body also does nothing so far; they will only start blaming us airline companies when it is too late instead of engaging Shell on our behalf. They have no expertise on this issue, unlike you who knows where to go, what questions to ask, and what buttons to push.”