MAF Engineer, Geoff Linkleter, makes the most of lockdown until Uganda's international airport opens

Published: 8 Sep 2020

MAF Engineer, Geoff Linkleter, fixing an MAF aircraft engine

This week, Vianney Lugya from Uganda’s Civil Aviation announced that commercial flights will resume from Entebbe International Airport from 1st October. Until that fateful day arrives, MAF Engineer, Geoff Linkleter, continues to make the most of his downtime…  

Until recently, Uganda enforced one of the strictest lockdowns in Africa. Although everyday life and air travel have been severely restricted, Geoff Linkleter has been keeping busy:

Uganda initially implemented a very strict lockdown with all public and private transport banned, markets and shopping arcades restricted, international travel forbidden, and schools and churches closed.

While most workplaces were not formally closed, the lack of transport meant that many people couldn't get to work.  Now we’re in ‘semi-lockdown’ where the main thing that affects us is the curfew.

The situation for MAF Uganda is still difficult as we have significantly reduced our flying during lockdown. We’ve been restricted to cargo only and any cross-border flights require complex permissions.

Please pray that MAF Uganda will receive clearance to fly passengers again.’

Meanwhile, Geoff and the team have been focusing on other projects.

MAF Kenya’s Cessna 5Y-EST aka ‘Esther’ during her overhaul in MAF Uganda's hangar

 Overhauling ‘Esther’

‘MAF's Cessna 208B Caravan, registered as 5Y-EST – also known as "Esther" - is one of MAF Kenya’s longest serving aircraft. Esther – usually based in Juba - has spent most of her last ten years operating in South Sudan.

Ten years was beginning to take its toll on Esther and it was also the last aircraft in Africa to be in the old MAF paint scheme. We at MAF Uganda volunteered to give her a thorough overhaul and repaint her.

Esther’s wings being removed for inspection and repair in MAF Uganda's hangar

Last autumn, Esther was flown to Uganda and the project began. The engine was removed and sent to a specialist facility in the US for overhaul. The wings and flight controls were removed for a thorough inspection and some minor corrosion damage was repaired.

My friend and colleague, MAF Engineer - Andy Swanson, took charge of completely stripping the paint from the aircraft and repainted her to look like new.

The landing gear was overhauled and one of the trainee Ugandan engineers bravely took on the unenviable task of installing new headlining in the cabin (replacing cabin ceiling fabric) to make her look as smart as the outside.

'We look forward to Esther returning to South Sudan to serve the people in that very difficult country'
MAF Engineer, Geoff Linkleter

‘My role involved inspecting components removed from the aircraft and determining what was required in terms of overhaul, repairs and replacements. I also helped with the re-installation and adjustment of the flight controls. This is critical ensuring that the aircraft will behave as the manufacturer intended when it flies.

Esther, halfway through her overhaul and paint job in the MAF Uganda hangar

I also carried out a ‘duplicate inspection’ on all critical systems ensuring that everything was safe. I had lots of "fun" organising documentation of the work carried out in accordance with airworthiness regulations.

Finally, during lockdown, everything went back together again. The engine was installed and MAF Pilot, Andrew Parker, carried out a test flight, which showed that the aircraft flew beautifully with no significant adjustments required.’

On 22nd July, MAF Pilot - Sam Johnson, flew the shiny, newly painted Esther back to Nairobi in Kenya in preparation for her work in South Sudan, the other side of the pandemic.

The freshly painted and newly overhauled Esther, in front of scenic background

Strategising about reaching the unreached

‘In view of reduced flying, MAF Uganda have also been spending time investigating what areas of Uganda still have very limited access to the outside world. How could MAF Uganda help these remote communities?

We focused our attention on the islands in Lake Victoria, which are very isolated and only have an intermittent boat service to connect them to the mainland. Several relief and outreach organisations are really interested in working with these communities.

It’s MAF Uganda’s vision to reach out to the islands in Lake Victoria, but reaching them by air is not straightforward because there are no effective landing strips. One option might be a float plane.

MAF did experiment with this 20 years ago, but the equipment available at the time wasn’t sufficient. Things have moved on however, and MAF Uganda is drafting a report for management with options to take this forward.’

The hard to reach ‘Sese Islands’ consist of many fishing communities

Praying, hoping, waiting

In a bid to kick start the country’s economy, Vianney Lugya from Uganda’s state-run Civil Aviation Authority (UCAA) says that Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport hopes to re-open and resume commercial flights from 1st October. (Source: Reuters)

This means that Geoff and his family can hopefully return to the UK for Christmas.

In the meantime, MAF continues to communicate with Uganda’s Ministry of Transport and the UCAA about when regular domestic flying can safely resume.