The Ethiopian Airlines has started using the Eldoret International Airport for export of flowers and other goods directly to the European market.
Airport manager Walter Agong on Tuesday said the carrier will be landing at the facility with electronic goods and taking off with horticultural products.
“The airline has made its maiden trip and will be linking the airport with markets in Europe where there is high demand for horticulture products, increasing viability of the facility,” said Mr Agong.
Horticultural production in Western Kenya is however still too low to fill up a cargo plane at one go and export the products directly to markets in Europe.
“Our main challenge is lack of partnership with horticulture farmers in order to increase volume of crops meant for export,” said Mr Agong, noting that some airlines have to link up at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to fill the remaining capacity.
The Eldoret airport warehouse can hold 1.2 million tonnes of cargo while the cold storage capacity is 250 tonnes.
But the airport’s 3.5 kilometre runway is short of 500 metres to accommodate large aircraft as required by civil aviation authorities.
“Our plan is to extend the runway strip from the current 3.5km to accommodate bigger aircraft. The current one is Category A, which only allows aircraft such as the Boeing 767 or Airbus 310,” said Mr Agong'. The airport recently received certification based on standards set by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) on safety management.“Some shipping agents have pooled resources to operate one large cargo plane in a strategy to cut down on costs as the airport continues to experience low business,” said Mr Agong.
The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) has however expanded its coldroom storage facility at the airport from 150 metric tonnes to 300 metric tonnes to enable horticultural traders from Western region to access European markets.
A cargo scanner has also been introduced at the airport to inspect imported goods and have strict regulatory systems to check any security lapse at the country’s third international airport.
Mr Agong said stringent measures have been introduced to ensure the airport is not used as a route for contraband goods and improve revenue generation at the facility.
“Computerised and physical scanning systems have been put in place to ensure that the airport is no longer a route for contraband goods imported into the country,” said Mr Agong.
The Eldoret airport has recorded increased numbers of cargo and passenger airlines after it received aerodrome certification by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).
The volume of cargo business at the facility has increased to five cargo flights per week while local airlines traffic is up from three to seven.
County governments in Western Kenya region have been petitioned to set up a demonstration farm on modern horticultural production techniques to enable growers penetrate European markets.