The Kakamega Airstrip came back to life on Wednesday after years of lying dormant for commercial flights.
The inaugural flight by Skyward Express plane Dash 8-300 landed at the revamped airstrip at 1142 hrs. As a sign of welcome, the plane was given a water salute by a fire engine before the travellers on board were treated to a red-carpet reception.
Among travelers on the plane were former and current Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali and Peter Salasya. This is the first flight after President William Ruto commissioned the Airstrip on Thursday last week and asked the county government to waive landing charges until operations pick up. According to Skyward Express Head of Marketing Harriet Shali, Skyward will have daily flights from Wilson Airport Nairobi to Kakamega Airstrip.
"Daily flights will depart Wilson Airport at 10 am daily, land at Kakamega 45 minutes, and depart Kakamega at 1100 hrs on the return journey," she said. According to her, an air ticket, either way, will cost Sh5,990.
Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa welcomed the Skyward Express team by acknowledging that the inaugural flight "is a milestone that will open up tourism in the region. We also welcome other commercial flights to this region. I also call on investors to come and invest in Kakamega".
The governor said there is need and room for expanding the airstrip to a full airport capable of serving the Western region. He said his government was in talks with landowners around the airstrip and they are receptive to the idea.
"We are in consultation with the Kenya Airports Authority to determine the length of the runway needed. Tentatively, we require between 100 and 200 acres of land for the purpose," said Mohammed Abdi, CEO, Kakamega Airstrip.
Reverend William Ouya, Chairman of the Hoteliers in Kakamega and the western region is upbeat about the daily flights by Skyward Express.
"We thank God, the National government and the Kakamega County government for this development. We have been greatly limited by lack of direct flights. Daily flights will positively impact our tourism sector by marketing local facilities and creating jobs in the county," he said.
A traveller on the inaugural flight who wished to remain anonymous said, "The experience was great and will save us time. There was a departure delay from Nairobi because of the flagging-off ceremony in Nairobi. That aside, the flight was good."
A skyward Express staff who wished to remain anonymous said people have embraced Skyward's daily flights to Kakamega. "Starting tomorrow, the flights will be nearly full. The plane that landed today can carry 37 passengers. However, as demand grows, the company will introduce bigger planes. The redone runway is equipped to handle larger planes than this."
Kenya Airport Authority (KAA) spent, Sh174m on the renovation of the Kakamega Airstrip after it was closed for renovation in 2013 to upgrade and extend the runway to accommodate larger aircraft. Initially, the runway was 1.3km long but has since been extended to 2.2km.
Operationalisation of daily flights to Kakamega is expected to boost tourism in the region as well as promote other businesses. According to KAA Western Region Manager Selina Gor, "The Kakamega Airstrip will accommodate medium-range aircraft with a capacity of 40 passengers".