While I was visiting family in Uganda recently I had the chance to see first-hand some of the work MAF do. From my desk in Glasgow, I read many stories of emergency flights, medevacs and relief work, but my trip would be a little different.
I had been booked onto one of Uganda’s shuttle flights. A shuttle is when our planes are used like buses. They have certain stops on a planned route and pick up and drop off passengers as they go. The flight I joined is a regular service to some of the northern regions of Uganda.
My day started at 5.30am (3.30am UK time, which unfortunately my body was still functioning by!) when my alarm went off informing me it was time to get up, have breakfast, take my antimalarial tablet and get going.
'A shuttle flight is not a dramatic, life changing story, but an incredible lifeline to many people'
By 6.30am I was on route to the MAF base in Kajjansi Uganda. Problem was, the police had closed the main road in the direction I was trying to travel to let more traffic travel into the capital, Kampala.
I sat in the car on the hard shoulder with cars travelling in all lanes, speeding towards me as it slowly got light outside. Eventually the traffic subsided and the police waved me on my way, swerving the occasional car that hadn’t realised the rules of the road just changed again!
I turned off the main road and joined a dirt road, crowded with people and animals, including cows with very large horns! Despite the disruptions I arrived at 7am, passed through security, had my bags weighed, got myself weighed and collected my boarding pass.
Our Pilot Greg arrived and led us down to the plane. He did his inspections of the plane and helped us board. It was the rainy season and there was a fair bit of mist and low cloud. Once everyone was on the plane, Greg talked us through the safety procedures, prayed and then set off for the run way.
For most of the passengers on board, the 1 hr 20 minute flight was a commute to work they had done a few times before. The drive to Moroto takes a full day and leaves you tired when you arrive, losing a full day each way to travel. Instead most passengers I spoke to had meetings that day. After an early start some people took a nap, others caught up on some work or reading.
I took the chance to see Uganda from a different view. Uganda is surprisingly green and has a varied landscape from savannas to mountains, forests and plains. Due to the cloud cover I missed a few landmarks like Mt Elgon, but I saw Mt Moroto for the first time, and I got to see the sun reflecting off the Nile.
We arrived in Moroto and said goodbye to all our passengers from the first leg of the journey. There were two passengers waiting for a flight back to the base in Kampala who joined us. We took off again, leaving behind the beautiful manyattas (round settlements) and headed to Soroti where another passenger was waiting.
'For most of the passengers on board, the 1 hr 20 minute flight was a commute to work'
As we flew back to Kajjansi, the clouds rolled in. Unlike the low, misty clouds of the morning these were big clouds with storms threatening. I have travelled in a lot of planes but to be in a small plane in the clouds is rather different.
I was fascinated watching Greg monitor the clouds as he pointed out the ones we needed to avoid. My stomach felt like I was on a ride at the fair with the steady ups and downs of the turbulent conditions. The clouds began to clear just as we made our approach ready for another smooth landing. We arrived back at the base just in time for some lunch.
Whilst for me it was a beautiful way to see more of Uganda and to experience being in an MAF Caravan, for organisations across Uganda, these regular flights create a safe, efficient and reliable link from the capital to remote areas. A shuttle flight is not a dramatic, life changing story, but it is an incredible lifeline to many people.