Airstrips set to get facelifts as low-cost carriers expand
Steve Umidha @UmidhaSteve
As coronavirus pandemic continues to stifle air travel, major local airports and airstrips plan to spend millions of shillings on new terminals, runways and hotels, though they could remain empty if demand does not return.
Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) this year begun a year-long project to refurbish part of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, as it seeks to improve travellers’ experience.
Plans to expand Malindi international airport’s runway from 1.4 kilometre stretch to 2.5kilometre is also expected to take off anytime soon.
“The pandemic is here to stay and as such we have to do what we have to do, these expansions are necessary now if we are going to improve air travel experience for both foreigners while at the same time improving domestic tourism,” Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said.
Sh963 million JKIA project to upgrade terminals 1B and 1C for instance is meant to renovate departure halls to improve check-ins, retail operations as well as increase passenger flow and increase efficiency due to centralisation of security screening procedures and the reallocation of available floor spaces to international departure gates.
Kenya Airports Authority which is undertaking the projects has subsequently closed the two terminals to pave way for the upgrades. All flight operations previously at T1B and T1C have now been migrated to Terminal 1A and Terminal 2.
Yesterday, the authority said it will in the next two to three weeks open the Voi-Kanga airstrip to serve Tsavo while at the same time open the coastal circuit for airlines flying passengers beyond Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu Counties.
Other smaller airstrips in Nyeri, Migori, Kisii and Mandera Counties among others are also lined up for development.
According to Alex Gitari, KAA Managing director these upgrades are meant to not only boost visits by foreigners but also expand domestic tourism, which has improved over the last few months despite the pandemic.
Some of the measures which have also seen travellers arrive at the airport at least four hours before flight departure time, is gradually winning approval from some local airline companies, which feel such upgrades will translate into growth opportunities for their operations.
Mohammed Abdi, the Chairman of Skyward Express, a local airline said with convenience being created by such infrastructural upgrades the industry players now have the opportunity to fly more routes.
“I believe the time is now coronavirus pandemic notwithstanding,” he said when the airline launched a flight from Nairobi, Wilson Airport toMalindi, Malindi Airport on Wednesday.
The Nairobi-Malindi route is a popular destination for low-cost carriers with Jambo jet, Fly540, East African Airline and Safarilink all using the busy route that is synonymous with tourists keen on sampling the coastal beaches. Ordinary rates are below Sh5,000 one way.
Low cost airlines are known to perform much better in terms of profit and passenger numbers than most mainstream airlines.
Between 2006 and 2009 for instance, the airline industry saw the advent of low cost airlines with the model now popular in Kenya in other routes like Eldoret, Turkana and Kisumu fast affecting airline industry as we know it.