Murkomen must look beyond JKIA's blackout

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen toured JKIA backup generators after power outage that plunged the facility into several hrs of darkness. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is no doubt Africa's premier hub. It serves as a transit point for major airlines as well as the gateway for visitors to other Africa's airports.

The airport also serves as a major cargo centre for both inbound and outbound goods. As the Kenya Airports Authority itself acknowledges, its importance as an aviation centre makes it the pace setter for other airports in the East African region.

According to 2022 statistics, it ranks at position six as one of the busiest airports in Africa handling more than 6.5 million passengers annually.

It was, therefore, disturbing that such a crucial facility failed to mitigate Friday's nationwide power blackout that affected parts of the airport for two hours leaving hundreds of passengers stranded.

We appreciate that Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen was quick to apologise to the affected passengers and offered to take quick action on the same.

Yesterday, he cracked the whip by terminating the contracts of Managing Director Alex Gitari and Engineering General Manager Fred Odawo.

While the airport's management has blamed temporary failure of the standby generator for the mishap, it is unacceptable that such critical installations do not routinely check their emergency response measures to enable them activate response mechanisms that minimise the inconvenience of their customer.

Again, it is easy to blame individual managers when such an incident happens. But the truth is that it is a system failure which if not addressed any other person coming after them will face the same challenges.

With the country keen on going green, we do not understand why JKIA and other airport facilities cannot tap into renewable energies to avoid power disruptions. How about tapping into solar energy for back up, for instance?

But even more importantly, the government must prioritise the expansion of the airport if it is to ward off or overcome competition from other regional airports such as the Bole Airport in Addis Ababa.

It is a shame that the Greenfields Project, which was meant to help JKIA reclaim its status as East Africa's aviation hub, is yet to materialise 20 years on.

With Qatar Airways planning to acquire significant stakes in Rwanda's new Bugesera Airport and RwandAir, there is palpable fear that after JKIA there is more that should bother CS Murkomen and his team.

Already, the Kigali Cargo Hub, part of a long-term strategic plan with Qatar Airways is likely to help RwandAir develop Kigali into a regional cargo powerhouse, boosting exports and imports around Africa and strengthening links with key overseas markets at JKIA's expense.

Let the latest mishap at the airport trigger the right response and come up with sustainable and progressive works. It is possible.