The plans of putting up the second runway at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) appear to be fizzling out as the government shifts priority to expansion of the existing terminals as it targets to increase the number of passengers using the facility.
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said the focus at the moment is to increase the number of passengers from the current 7.5 million travellers annually to 12 million as Kenya seeks to make JKIA a regional hub.
Mr Macharia noted that plans are already underway to expand terminal B, C, and D to accommodate more passengers.
“We have had urgent additional investment which had to be done for our aviation sector before even thinking of the second runway,” said Mr Macharia in an Interview with NTV on Monday.
“One of the biggest investment is to increase efficiency at which plane are landing and taking off. That way, you can even have a single runway but it seems as if they are two,” he added.
The move means JKIA will remain with a single runway for a very long time, making it prone to flight delays and disruptions in the event of mishaps at the landing path or in case of scheduled maintenance.
In 2016, Mr Macharia told Shipping& Logistics that the current runway was not sufficient to handle increased capacity of the aircrafts at the airport, hence the need to put up an additional one.
“You would find out that planes that are due for takeoff could be delayed on the queue to allow an oncoming aircraft to land before they are given clearance to take off,” said the CS then.
The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) was put on the spot in February over its routine annual night closure of airport runway for maintenance between March and April, the period when the horticulture exports are at its peak.
The Kenya Flower Council said the move affects their orders and compromise the quality of the produce given that much of the shipment is done at night.
KAA normally conducts routine maintenance every year to repair some of the damaged sections of the JKIA with the period coinciding with Valentines and Mother’s Day when the demand for flowers is high.
Mr Macharia now says increased passenger numbers at the airport will not be attracted by the second runway but rather on improved efficiencies on utilisation of the current terminals.
“Making JKIA a hub will not come because of the second runway, but on account of making sure that all the terminals are fully utilised,” he said.
The CS said the number of visitors at the airport has increased since the onset of direct flights to the US and that the government is revamping terminals B, C and D to make sure that they are efficient, adding that JKIA will get nowhere with a second runway when efficiency is lacking at the terminals.
Mr Macharia, however, said the second runway plans have not been entirely cancelled only that it is not a priority at the moment.
There have been claims the second runway plan was put on hold to focus on other projects within the facility. This was even after African Development Bank, which was financing the project, had approved the funds.
The construction was supposed to start in the first quarter of 2018 and tenders had already been floated, with over 50 firms bidding.
The government has argued that construction of a second runway is a heavy investment project and wants to determine if it is value for money before embarking on it.
In February last year, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) announced that the cost of the second runway had been revised downwards from Sh37 billion to Sh21.9 billion.
If cancelled, this will mark the second major project to be abandoned at JKIA after cancellation of the Green Field Terminal in 2016.
The current runway, which is made of tarmac, was constructed in 1978 and was upgraded in 2015. Normally tarmac has a recommended life of 15 years and the runway is therefore due for resurfacing.
The JKIA runway is 4,117 metres long and 45 metres wide with 15 metres paved shoulders, making it a code E runway that can handle wide body aircrafts, including the Boeing B747.
JKIA was built in the 1970s to handle 2.5 million passengers annually but is struggling to handle more than six million people a year as its regional importance grows.
The delay of the expansion of JKIA comes at a time when regional countries are revamping their airport infrastructure as they position themselves to attract global airlines.
Authorities in Tanzania have announced that construction of a new passenger terminal at the Julius Nyerere International Airport will be completed in June 2019. The Sh30.27 billion project has been delayed over a funding hitch after President John Magufuli questioned its cost and implementation timeframe in February last year.