Diversion of international planes to as far as Entebbe following Wednesday’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) fire has sparked debate as Kisumu business stakeholders and hoteliers cry foul.
Kisumu Business Association through its chief executive Aba Eban questioned the motive behind diverting flights to Entebbe yet the lakeside airport had been marked for international arrivals, making it the first alternative at times of crisis.
“We have the best runway compared to other airports in the country and yet no government agency could make sense of it and send planes to the lakeside town when fire broke out at JKIA,” said Mr Eban.
“The crisis made Kisumu lose business when we could get more revenue through incoming flights at the time that Nairobi’s JKIA was a no go zone.”
In an interview with the Business Daily on the issues raised by the business community, Kisumu airport manager Joseph Okumu said the facility had been upgraded to an international status, saying it can handle an annual turnout of up to 300,000 passengers.
“The airport receives chartered flights from Egypt, Nigeria, and Tanzania making passenger numbers grow by 20 per cent since the airport was upgraded. We also have a standard runway that can handle big aeroplanes, but the decision to divert flights to Mombasa, Eldoret or Entebbe was not within our control as the ministry has established strict guidelines,” said Mr Okumu.
Daniel Okumu, the chairman of Lake Victoria Tourism Association said during the recent fuel hitch at JKIA, planes were also diverted to Entebbe.
“Why avoid Kisumu yet it is rated as an international airport?” he asked.
The chairman of Lake Victoria Tourism Association said Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the Ministry of Transport and other decision-making agencies should ‘‘stop politics and concentrate on equal development of all regions.’’
“Kisumu has grown to a level where the airport’s runway can accommodate a number of planes, at the same time our hotel capacity is sufficient to host guests who might have been offloaded to Kisumu, the politics on this matter must stop once and for all,” said Mr Okumu.
He said the circuit lost the opportunity to make millions of shillings in revenue that could have been raised from the flights that were cancelled on the day of the crisis.
“Wednesdays are normally brisk days for tourism in the western circuit; we lost an opportunity to earn revenue for this country,” he said.
Kenya Chamber of Commerce Kisumu Chapter chairperson Ben Kitoto said that the business community has lodged complaints.
“Use of Kisumu airport during any crisis is a good opportunity to rate its capability to handle international flights,” said Mr Kitoto.
According to the KAA information site, the first phase of construction of Kisumu airport cost Sh3.4 billion, the second phase is budgeted to cost Sh1.9 billion.