Local air operators in Uganda blame Shell for avgas woes


UGANDA (eTN) – Anger and frustration have taken over relations between Shell Uganda, the sole supplier of avgas in the country, and the air operators in Entebbe and Kajjansi, using single and twin piston-engined aircraft for charter flights.

Information has been unearthed that the recently established avgas tank facility in Kajjansi, able to hold 40,000 liters, designed and initially built by Shell and then taken over by a former Shell executive who now operates the facility as his own business, is showing a serious design fault. Some 6,000 liters of the precious liquid cannot be pumped out of the tank since the suction inlet has been placed too high, adding to the frustration of those depending on this type of fuel.

To add financial injury to insult, Shell has, without providing any information or acceptable explanation, raised the prices of avgas from the agreed US$2.08 per liter to US$2.25 per liter in September, charged retrospectively as assured by several charter companies, although after threat of legal action and other measures, Shell reduced the price to its previous level again, effective November 1. Air operators vowed not to pay the surcharge as it lacked in contract and was unilateral and arbitrary. It was also learned from aviation sources in Kenya that during the period in question, prices in Nairobi and Mombasa DID NOT change, nor did they in Tanzania, where another international oil company delivers avgas to the various airports, aerodromes, and airfields.

Allegations have long been made that every time the protests of air operators become too vocal and intense, avgas runs out altogether, almost as in dishing out punishment but at the same time crippling the aviation industry, which continues to use a sizeable number of ligh’ aircraft to fly tourists and business travelers to often remote airstrips where larger aircraft cannot land or are too expensive for only a handful of passengers.

The cost of avgas in Dar es Salaam was quoted, for the period in question, as costing US$1.5013 per liter, Zanzibar quoted US$1.5127, Arusha Municipal Aerodrome quoted US$1.6098, and the more remote Dodoma and Tabora quoted US$1.6257 and 1.6478, respectively. In further comparison, a liter of avgas at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport last week cost a mere US$1.75 per liter, a difference until the end of October of US$0.50.

The difference in pricing is evident, and with the cost of a tanker load from Kenya to Kampala given at a whopping US$18.50. Air operators have reviewed the concession agreements Shell has with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to provide aviation fuels to the airline industry with a view to establish if the CAA could sanction Shell for gross misconduct or for failing to supply whenever avgas runs out, but the outcome of this and other parallel initiatives still remains to be seen.