Shipping & Logistics

Small airports gain from expansion of airlines

Visitors arrive at Ukunda Airstrip. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Visitors arrive at Ukunda Airstrip. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s small airports and airstrips registered faster growth in the year to March 2017  than the country’s largest facilities, reflecting rising domestic connectivity as airlines expand their networks.

Latest statistics show that a total 147,129 passengers moved through the 10 small airports and airstrips for which the Kenya Airports Authority publishes data, a 10 per cent growth over a similar time last year.

However, passengers moving through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Moi International Airport, Wilson Airport, Eldoret International Airport, and Kisumu International Airport inched up one per cent to 2.37 million during the same period.

While the root of these trends is not immediately clear, it is possible that an increase of local connectivity as airlines expand their networks and politicians’ movement during the electoral season may be part of the reason. Conversely, political activity would also harm passenger numbers at major airports as tourists and international business people opt to stay put.

The numbers show especially positive performance at Manda Airstrip in Lamu with traffic growing 17.3 per cent to reach 20,779 passengers. At Ukunda Airstrip in Kwale, passenger numbers grew 2.3 per cent while in Wajir Airport they rose 6.6 per cent.

Kitale, Lodwar, Eldoret, Kabunde and Kakamega airstrips cumulatively recorded a 54.3 per cent growth in passenger traffic from 18,294 to 28,221.

On the other hand, Lokichoggio and Malindi Airports recorded significant drops of 26.8 per cent and 6.1 per cent in their passenger numbers.

The growth in passenger numbers over the year follows the government’s effort to rehabilitate and expand old airstrips as well as construct new ones, a move meant to unlock the potential of counties and enhance connectivity to other regions.

A travel analysis report from ForwardKeys shows Kenya witnessed an increase in domestic aviation seat capacity compared to the international average in the first seven months of the year. The report states that among the top 10 airports in Africa, Nairobi is the only one that saw a bigger growth in domestic seat capacity, while Lagos slumped on both the local and international fronts.

This means that Kenyans are increasingly opting to fly within the borders of their own country.

“Most of the other airports in Africa’s top 10 are seeing a healthy growth in capacity, which is more international than domestic. However, the most notable exception to this trend is Nairobi, which is seeing a 22 per cent boost in domestic capacity,” read the statement. An improvement linked to cheaper airlines introduced on many local routes is said to be the key factor contributing to the growing number of passengers using airports and airstrips in the country.

The latest entrant, Britex Air Services, announced new flights between Nairobi and Kisumu in July. The airline plans to launch a new Kisumu-Mombasa route with a stop-over at Wilson airport.

Jambojet added weekly flights between Nairobi and Eldoret citing increased passenger demand. Last month, Fly 540 and Fly SAX set up offices at the Isiolo International Airport ahead of its opening for domestic flights.

The flights target business people and county officials doing rounds in the country.

KAA data indicates that the number grew by 1.6 per cent in the year ending March 2017 as the passengers using eight airports and seven airstrips grew from 2.34 million to 2.38 million in the period.

The number is projected to grow with the completion of pending projects.

Among the airstrips set for rehabilitation  include Suneka in South Nyanza, where a passenger lounge, gate house and car park are set for construction. 

The renovation will also include repair and marking of the runway and building a proper drainage system.

The agency plans to construct a new 3,000m long runway with taxiways, in addition to a terminal building and car park at Eldas airstrip in Mandera. In Mandera-Wargadud, KAA targets to construct a new 4,220m long runway and taxiways, an apron and a control tower.

A new 1,700 meter long runway is targeted for construction at the Kitale airstrip, alongside the existing one, to accommodate more aircraft landing and taking off.

Ukunda Airport is also earmarked for an upgrade to ease access of the South Coast, another tourist hotspot.

The authority also plans to expand Ukunda’s runway by 0.5km to 1.6km, enabling the airstrip to accommodate larger aircraft too.

Manda airstrip is also in need of repairs owing to the deplorable state of the runway which was unveiled in January this year.

The new-look airstrip is expected to handle increased air traffic once the Lamu Port -South Sudan- Ethiopia Transport corridor (LAPSSET) starts in earnest.

The upgraded runway is expected to encourage international airlines to land in Lamu, increasing the number of tourists jetting into the country.

Local budget carrier Jambojet boss Williem Hondius said the airline halted flights to Manda Airstrip on the deterioration of the apron and taxiway.

Construction of a cold room, hangers and a fuel depot is also underway at the facility. The expansion projects at the airstrip target catering to larger planes and increased human traffic.