KISII: The National Government has embarked on major rehabilitation works at the Suneka Airstrip in Kisii County to facilitate commercial operations.
The initial phase of the rehabilitation costing Sh52 million includes construction of a passenger lounge with a capacity to hold up to 200 passengers, construction of toilets, a car park, a chain link fence and minor repairs and marking of the runway.
On Monday, engineers from Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) led by civil engineer in charge of airstrips Julius Wagai led Kisii County Government officials and local leaders in touring the site. The contractor Vinbel International is already on the ground.
In this year's budget, the National Government set aside Sh 1.65 billion for construction of new airports at Mandera, Malindi and Suneka.
"This is just the first phase of the project. The National Government is willing to collaborate with the County Government to improve infrastructure in this airstrip. We expect construction to be complete by the end of this year," said Engineer Wagai.
Eng. Wagai said KAA was facing challenges in acquiring additional land required to expand the runway at Suneka Airstrip but said consultations were ongoing with the National Land Commission and local leaders to address the concern.
County Executive Committee (CEC) in charge of Roads and Public Works Dr Skitter Ocharo said the airstrip was a vital gateway in the South Nyanza region owing to its proximity to Maasai Mara and Ruma National Parks.
"This airstrip has immense potential to transform the local economy once complete. Already, a number of commercial airlines have expressed interest in operating flights from this facility which will be a boon for the local economy," said Dr Ocharo.
She said the planned improvement at the airstrip had elicited excitement from major players in the aviation and tourism industries.
"As a County Government, we are investing in agro processing to create jobs and grow the economy. We recently exported the first batch of avocado oil and the rehabilitation of this airstrip will spur further growth," she added.
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Four area Members of the Kisii County Assembly led by majority leader Protus Moindi welcomed the construction work and called on the national Government to set aside more funds to fully modernize the facility.