Idle refurbished Isiolo Airport to resume operations in two months

Isiolo International Airport

Officials led by acting Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director Alex Gitari tour the Isiolo International Airport on May 12, 2021. PHOTO | WAWAERU WAIRIMU | NMG

The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has said operations at the Isiolo International Airport will resume in two months bringing to life the facility that has been lying idle for more than three years.

The airport was commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 after a Sh2.7 billion upgrade and was billed as a game-changer for the economies of northern Kenya but has never been fully operational.

During an inspection tour of the facility on Wednesday, KAA acting Managing Director Alex Gitari said improvement works are ongoing ahead of the resumption of services. He was accompanied by officials from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).

Isiolo International Airport

Workers building the Sh20.9 million cargo shed at the Isiolo International Airport. PHOTO | WAWAERU WAIRIMU | NMG

Cracks on runway

In addition to routine maintenance on the 1.4km runway that had some cracks, Mr Gitari said it would be extended to 2.5km for large aircraft.

KAA said a Sh20.9 million cargo shed is also being constructed as the facility eyes miraa traders transporting the stimulant to Nairobi and other destinations.

“The cargo shed will be complete by July to attract business people and phase two of extending the runway will start soon,” said Mr Gitari, adding that five airlines have already expressed interest in using the airport.

Substructure works for the main building are complete and steel fabrication is underway while the overall work is 30 per cent complete, according to a report by contractor, Reliance City Housing Company Limited.

Marketing the airport

The government will partner with Isiolo and Meru county governments in marketing the facility as part of its new business development plan, the official said, while admitting that inadequate marketing had delayed operationalisation of the airport.

Lack of political goodwill has been cited as being among the reasons for the delayed pickup of services by residents, who are predominantly pastoralists.

KCAA withdrew its officers deployed to the airport since the level of business cannot sustain operations.

Isiolo International Airport

A worker flags at the Isiolo International Airport in April 2019. PHOTO | NMG

Cargo hub

Stakeholders say the facility, which is part of the Sh2.5 trillion Lamu Port South Sudan and Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project, has potential as a cargo hub and could boost tourism in the upper eastern circuit.

“The two county governments should offer incentives to attract investors and assist in marketing of the airport,” said Ms Judy Wachira of Benita Travels.

Before Covid-19 struck and the government-imposed air travel restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, the airport was operating below capacity only used by small chartered aircrafts.

Alex Gitari

Acting Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director Alex Gitari addresses journalists at the Isiolo International Airport on May 12, 2021. PHOTO | WAWAERU WAIRIMU | NMG

No local support

Since the commissioning of the airport, only one airline — Budget Airline East African Air Express (formerly Fly-Sax) — has attempted to use it but backed off on three occasions citing lack of local support.

In February 2020 and five months after its failed second attempt, the airline announced that it would resume flights on the Nairobi-Isiolo route on Valentine’s Day in the company’s third attempt to lure investors and residents into embracing air travel but the flights never kicked off.

The company, which was the pioneer on the route, first halted services in mid-2018 after operating for nearly 10 months.

Lack of necessary infrastructure, including aviation lights to allow planes to land and take off at night and cargo sheds, has prevented full utilisation of the airport which has a 5,000-square-metre passenger terminal.