Kenya’s airports have been in the news this week for all the wrong reasons. For a country that has been working hard to position itself as a regional hub, the chain of events witnessed this week are regrettable given their far-reaching implications.
From reports of a jet fuel shortage to a crippling workers’ strike, this has been a very rough week for our airports.
Yet all these issues could not have mutated to crisis level. The looming jet fuel shortage at the Moi and Jomo Kenyatta International (JKIA) airports betrays poor planning on the part of agencies involved in running the crucial transport facilities.
It is disheartening to imagine that 27 years since the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) was established to oversee the running of these ports, it can’t work effectively with oil marketing firms to anticipate demand and plan for adequate supply of jet fuel.
As a result of this oversight, passengers are being denied the benefits of direct flights as a number of aircraft have to make detours to other cities across Africa just to refuel. It is, however, the crippling industrial action that should worry KAA more. The union leaders called for a strike to particularly protest KAA’s decision to hand over JKIA to Kenya Airways without involving the workers.
That the strike was allowed to materialise raises two fundamental questions: How come the government – Transport ministry, KAA, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and Labour ministry - made no effort to avert the industrial action despite the 21-day notice issued by the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (Kawu)?
Why would Kawu be so intent on having their strike even after Parliament took charge and opened a public investigation into the matter?
We acknowledge that the plan to hand JKIA over to Kenya Airways was always going to be an emotive issue to the workers given the number of livelihoods that it supports, but parties to the dispute didn’t have to lose sight of the big picture.
For JKIA, it is even ridiculous to fall back on old bad ways just months after winning a hard fought battle for a Category One status.