Expansion and modernisation of the dilapidated Itembe airstrip in Bomet County has been hampered by lack of land.
The Kenya Airports Authority requires 40 acres for expansion and upgrade of the airstrip in a project that would see the runway expanded to 1.2km to meet the set international standards for such a facility.
The runway, which has been in poor state for the last 28 years, has been reduced to a training ground by driving schools, a cattle grazing field by villagers and a children’s playing pitch.
Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) General Manager Fred Odawo in charge of projects engineering services, said the planned upgrade would not proceed until the national or county governments bought the required.
“Currently the airstrip land is 13.5 acres with a one kilometre runway. There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport at the national government to purchase the land for the expansion,” said Mr Odawo.
Alternatively, he said the county government could volunteer to buy the land which has been identified and mapped for expansion of the facility located about three kilometres from Bomet town, and off the Silibwet-Kapkwen road.
Mr Odawo told Shipping & Logistics at the weekend that the upgrade would entail construction of a runway, an apron and terminal at the disused airstrip.
Bomet Governor Hillary Barchok urged the national government to set aside funds to purchase the land for expansion.
"Surveying of the land has been done alongside its valuation. We are appealing to the national government to allocate funds for the upgrade of the airstrip as a matter of urgency," said Dr Barchok.
In the 2017/2018 financial year Sh125 million was allocated for the airstrip upgrade by the national Treasury, while in 2018/2019 fiscal Sh63 million was budgeted for the project.
However, half of the money has since been returned to the Treasury and KAA has Sh81.5 million in its coffers for the works.
“For years, the facility was key to evacuating patients on emergency basis from Tenwek hospital for specialised treatment in various hospitals in Nairobi and outside the country but has remained in a state of disuse for more than two decades as the runway is dilapidated,” said Mr Wesley Kiprotich, Bomet Deputy Speaker.
Mr Kiprotich said upgrade of the facility would make it easier for tourists to utilise it while travelling to and from the Maasai Mara in the neighbouring Narok County.
“Upgrade of the facility would also result in creation of direct and indirect job opportunities for the region’s residents. We are appealing to the national government to allocate money for purchase of the required land to expand the airstrip,” said Mr Kiprotich.
On September, 13, 2017, shortly after assuming office, the late former Bomet Governor Joyce Laboso toured the airstrip with officers from the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) led by Engineer Joel Wagai, and officers from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).
The officials promised that the authority and the county government would immediately embark on modernisation of the facility.
Meanwhile the airstrip remains a shadow of its former self. Two uninhabited and rundown staff houses stand in the facility, along with cracked pit latrines, a wind soak compass, a gate and a fence that has been completely pulled down on one side .
Until early this year, the runway was used as a diversionary route by motorists as the main road was in a bad state, and also during the upgrade to bitumen standard of the Silibwet-Kapkwen road.
Upon its upgrade, which is now in limbo, the facility would make it easy for local and foreign tourists to travel from Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret to access the South Rift's tourism circuit.
Tenwek hospital previously used the airstrip to transport medical and non-medical supplies channelled to the health facility by donors in the United States.
It was also utilised to evacuate patients to referral hospitals in Nairobi.
Leonard Langat, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Bomet branch chairman said there is an urgent need to upgrade the airstrip so as to boost business in the South Rift.
"With the high demand for avocados and green peas in the world market, and with the high investment in the horticulture sector in the region, Itembe airstrip would come in handy in easing transportation of the perishable goods to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for onwards freight to Europe and Asia," said Mr Langat.