Boon to Kakamega as airstrip opens up for commercial flights

The Kakamega Airstrip was rehabilitated at a cost of Sh170 Million. [Benjamin Sakwa, Standard]

Kakamega Airstrip is set to receive its first-ever passenger flight.

Governor Fernandes Barasa yesterday said he will be at the airstrip to receive the first flight from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

“I will officiate the first commercial flight courtesy of the president’s recent tour, tomorrow. The facility will open up Western Kenya to visitors,” said the governor in his Jamhuri Day address at Bukhungu Stadium yesterday.

President William Ruto officially commissioned the Sh170 million airstrip last week during his two-day tour of the Western region.

Dr Ruto directed the Kenya Airports Authority and Kenya Civil Aviation to suspend landing fees for a while. He said more money will be allocated by his government for the expansion and upgrade of the airstrip.

“I have asked Governor Barasa to identify land for expansion of the airstrip so that it can open up for large flights that will serve Kakamega and the neighbouring counties. People from this region will not be required to go all the way to Kisumu airport to catch flights anymore,” said Ruto.

The airstrip is among four others in Western Kenya that remain in a desolate state despite constant efforts for an upgrade.

Others are Bungoma, Matulo, and Busia airstrips which were among 24 across the country earmarked for an upgrade by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta’s regime.

Only the Kakamega airstrip, out of the four, has a chance to welcome and host customers again after the Sh170 million rehabilitation.

When President Ruto officially opened the facility last week, there was a lot of excitement, and local leaders praised the move.

"This will relieve pressure on the Eldoret and Kisumu airports, which have been used by passengers travelling to Western Kenya before taking the road," Ruto said.

Previously, the Jubilee administration promised to include Sh500 million in the 2017/18 budget for the expansion of Kakamega Airstrip.

The funds were to be used to purchase additional land in order to expand the runway from 1.3km to at least 2km and allow for commercial flights.

Nonetheless, families living near the airstrip were hesitant to relocate in order to allow for the landing of larger planes and other aircraft.

President Ruto said the focus has shifted to the facility's expansion, which includes a new runway and the expansion of the terminal building to include VIP facilities.

Governor Barasa has asked landowners near the airstrip to work with him "on mechanisms to avail land that will be used to expand the airstrip and then upgrade it to an airport."

Former Governor Wycliffe Oparanya's administration had previously identified at least 56 acres in Likuyani for the families' resettlement, but this did not occur.

Fly 540 and Fly-SAX airlines stopped direct flights from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to Western in May 2014 due to the poor state of Kakamega Airstrip.

Usually, Fly 540 would make trips on Friday and Sunday to Kakamega while Fly-SAX had direct schedules on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday.