Kenya flies high with airport expansions

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A number of capital upgrades at Kenya’s airports this year should help improve passenger capacity and airline access, increasing the country’s ability to handle more traffic every year.

The opening of a new international terminal late last year − Terminal 1a − built at a cost of $129m, and the expected opening of a second, smaller terminal this March will collectively boost annual capacity threefold from 2.5m to 7.5m passengers. The airport has been operating above capacity for well over a decade. Passenger movements grew by 127% between 2002 and 2011 according to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), which estimates that annual passenger numbers will hit nearly 35m by 2030.

Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Terminal 1a was opened after an August 2013 fire destroyed the former international arrivals terminal, which is currently being demolished. The new terminal will be used exclusively by Kenya Airways and its Skyteam partners for all of their domestic and international flights.

Terminal 2, a prefabricated facility that was built in six months, will handle most of the remaining domestic and some of the regional passengers, but is only a temporary measure while another larger terminal is built. The planned new terminal, which is expected to cost KSh56bn ($609.6m), is slated to be completed by 2017 and when finished, on its own, should boost passenger capacity by 20m travellers. The temporary terminal, meanwhile, was built at a cost of KSh1.7bn ($18.5m), KSh600m ($6.5m) less than the original budget, and financed by the African Development Bank.

Runaway growth

The terminals are not the only infrastructure currently being overhauled. The KAA recently announced that the sole runway at JKIA, which was last resurfaced in 1992, will be closed for upgrades – including rehabilitation of the taxiways and apron − from 12am until 6am daily for a period of at least eight months, starting in April. Both cargo and passenger airlines will have to reroute or reschedule affected flights.

A long-awaited new, second runway is also on the cards, with the National Environment Management Authority expected to complete its impact review of the KSh13bn ($141.5m) project by April. Despite the disruption, airlines have been supportive of the runway plans. “The closure will interfere with the international connections for some of the airlines, so we are currently looking at how to address this,” Alan Cassels, the Kenya country manager for DHL Express, told OBG. “The second runway is absolutely essential, though the industry is concerned about when it will actually be completed,” he added.

The changes form part of a broader programme of modernisation and rehabilitation of the aviation infrastructure across Kenya. With improved airport infrastructure and connectivity a crucial part of the government’s Vision 2030 plan, airports in Mombasa, Kisumu, Malindi and Lamu will also see sizable investments, as will smaller airstrips in rural areas. Total investments of about $150m have been made in improvements over the past few years

The effort to expand the country’s capacity and accessibility for handling air traffic is seen as underpinning growth in other sectors. Speaking to a crowd of aviation officials in February, Deputy President William Ruto said it was time Kenya became a “giant” in the global aviation sector. “The aviation industry accounts for 10% of our GDP... Indeed tourism, international trade, and commerce cannot survive, let alone thrive, without the aviation sector.”

Procedural changes

A final piece of the puzzle will be implemented when Kenya can reinstate flights to the US. The airport is currently overhauling its security arrangements for both passenger and freight traffic, as it continues to make its case for direct flights to the US after it cancelled the planned start of direct flights nearly six years ago. The director of African affairs at the US Chamber of Commerce, Danielle Walker, told local media in February that a final review of security arrangements at JKIA will be conducted in March or April, paving the way for non-stop flights between the two countries. Ensuring compliance with US Transport Security Administration security and screening procedures is a prerequisite before countries are able to open direct connections to US airports

“The industry has been lobbying for direct flights to the US for a long time,” Karanja Nojoroge, country general manager for TNT Worldwide Express, told OBG. “This will provide a healthy lift for trade and it should strengthen Nairobi’s place as the transport and trade hub of the region.”

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