Tourism players are banking on the introduction of direct flights from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport to Nyeri’s Nyaribo Airstrip to boost the sector’s dwindling fortunes.
At 3.45pm last Saturday, a Cessna Caravan landed at the airstrip in the outskirts of Nyeri town and onboard were 12 passengers who included tours and travel company owners, marking the inaugural commercial flight by Flying Training Centre (FTC), a family-owned business venture.
In 2018, FTC opened an aviation school to utilise the abandoned Nyaribo Airstrip and on Saturday, it launched the maiden flight which takes about 25 minutes.
The route also offers city dwellers who want to retreat to the village during weekends a quick trip by air as opposed to up to three hours on the road.
Travellers will pay Sh6,000 for a one-way ticket.
According to founder Captain Godwin Wachira, FTC has partnered with stakeholders in the hospitality and tourism sectors with the airstrip serving as an aviation hub for the Mount Kenya region.
“We have partnered with people in the hotel industry and tours and travel to tap on the underutilised tourism sector in the county and region at large. We are definitely reducing the time wasted on roads travelling to Nairobi from three hours to 25 minutes which is worth it,” said Mr Wachira.
“There have been a lot of partnerships between the agents, hotels and the airlines and this is one of the reasons it will work. Earlier, the partnerships were not as big as now,” said Simon Kabu, the owner of Bonfire Adventures.
And according to Raymond Mwaniki, a tourism marketing agent, the region has potential for growth and the stakeholders see business prospects.
“We have talked to the tourism board; tourist operators and we want to make this a success. Nyeri has nice destinations, that's why we have started this charter and it’s going to grow and we already have enquiries,” he said.
Mr Wachira said they would increase the frequency of the flights should the demand rise.
Located in the plain between the Aberdare ranges and Mt Kenya, the 190-acre facility has not been in use since 2018, save for training and occasional charter flights.
Bush Air Safaris launched the first and only commercial flight from Nairobi to Nyeri in 2018 with tickets costing Sh3,000 one-way. No other commercial flight has landed at the airstrip since.
Mr Wachira notes that less traffic congestion at Nyaribo has availed more time for training as there are no long take-off queues.
“Nyeri has zero traffic compared to Nairobi and at the same time offers the best training atmosphere for cross-country navigation,” he said.
Aviation training costs Sh16,000 per hour.
Works on a new terminal are underway. The construction was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2018.
According to Joseph Okumu, the Kenya Airports Authority regional manager, the terminal will be completed in two months.