Domestic air transport operators have been increasing their flights to the western region to cash in on the expanding demand for low cost flights.
In a span of four months, three airlines have launched or increased flights to Kisumu International Airport, stepping up competition for established carriers such as the Kenya Airways, Jambojet, Fly540 and Britex Airlines.
Freedom Airline Express started its maiden flights to lakeside city in May. The latest airline to operate the route is Safarilink Aviation Limited, bringing the number of players to seven.
Recently, Jambojet added more flights frequency on the Nairobi-Kisumu route by four to 24 trips per week.
Increased demand from travellers made Jambojet add flights from three to four on Monday, Friday and Saturday while also introducing an early morning trip on Sunday to meet the weekend demand.
“Since inception, we have experienced immense growth in Kisumu due to our very affordable fares and thus it is time we give our customers more flexibility and convenience for travel,” said Jambojet chief executive Willem Hondius.
“Kisumu which was the airline’s second destination after Mombasa is mostly frequented by businessmen from the larger western region as well as corporate travellers whose regional offices are domiciled in Kisumu, Kakamega, Mumias, Kisii and Bungoma.
Silverstone Air Services is also set to increase frequency on its Nairobi-Kisumu route in the next one week.
The local airline will now fly three times per week from Nairobi to Kisumu, an increase from two due to increased demand from travellers.
“We have experienced immense growth along the Kisumu-Nairobi route due to our very affordable fares. We therefore want to give our customers more flexibility and convenience for travel,” said Silverstone Air Sales Manager Patrick Oketch.
According to the Kenya Airports Authority reports Kisumu International Airport handled 416,000 movement in 2017-2018 financial years.
Most passengers using the Nairobi-Kisumu route are either on business trip, for conference, tourism or on visit to their rural homes.
The Kenya Airport Authority Communication Manager Angela Tilitei said Kisumu is currently the headquarters for the Lake Basin Commission for East Africa, and therefore attracts business, conferences and workshops.
"Many passengers are visiting their rural homes especially during the weekends. Tourism in the region is also gathering momentum, with ancient sites such as Kit Mikai in Seme and the crying stones of Kakamega, increasingly attracting visitors in the region," said Ms Tilitei.
She said Kisumu has a wide and rich catchment area for business, encompassing western as well as parts of North and South Rift regions. This creates a high demand for air transport, she said.
Silverstone’s Mr Oketch said Kisumu is rapidly rising to be a commercial hub.
“Kisumu is mostly frequented by corporate travellers as well as businessmen from the larger western region whose offices are situated in Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia, Mumias and Kisii,” said Mr Oketch
During the launch of Safarilink Airline Aviation in September, political leaders called for direct regional connectivity to Entebbe, Kigali, Mwanza, Dar and Arusha.
The leaders said Kisumu is fast becoming an economic hub considering its proximity to Entebbe and Mwanza city.
“From Kisumu, Entebbe is just across the corner and so is Mwanza. You can go to Entebbe and Mwanza and back to Kisumu in a day. Ugandans don’t have to waste money to go to Nairobi,” said ODM leader Raila Odinga.
“If there is a direct flight from Entebbe to Kisumu, they will come buy things here.”
He said the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) will link the investors from Uganda to Kisumu.
“As you know the SGR is coming to Kisumu. It’s going to be easier for Uganda come for shopping here, then be taken back either by the lake or road,” Mr Raila said.
He added that the airport is handling daily flights covering customers from 13 counties in the western region.
Kisumu airport is an international facility with provisions for immigration services and customs clearance.
"Airlines determine connectivity based on business viability of the area. All Airports in the country operate within ICAO regulations. KCAA does audits to access compliance and the outcome form the basis for licensing of our facilities,Ms Tilitei said.
CEC in charge of Transport and public works Thomas Ondijo said that the increase in flights come to experience inter county air services especially for the Lake Region Economic Block Counties with Kisumu being the originating airport.