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21 years on, Eldoret airport fails to soar to full potential

By Silah Koskei | October 3rd 2018
Members of the Senate Committee on Roads and Infrastructure with airport officials during a visit to the Eldoret International Airport last week. [Silah Koskei, Standard]

Former President Daniel arap Moi once had a vision of securing the future of farmers in the Rift, western and lake regions.

To do this, he would have to build an airport in the heart of the agricultural region to ensure that farm produce was quickly transported abroad.

At first, he faced a backlash from Government officials following his decision to set it up in a remote area of the Rift Valley. But he was unmoved and soon, the Kapseret-based airport was up and running.

However, 21 years after the Eldoret International Airport, which sits on 2,000 acres, was established as a gateway to the rest of the world, it faces many challenges that have stifled its development.

Last week, the Senate Roads and Transport committee toured the airport accompanied by Uasin Gishu Deputy Governor Daniel Chemno.

Among the infrastructural challenges is the airport's 3.5-kilometre runway, which cannot accommodate large aircraft. In addition, the airfield is poorly lit.

Through a presentation made by airport manager Walter Agong’, the committee led by Senator Kimani Wamatangi (Kiambu) also found out that the current runway was 500 metres shy of what is required by civil aviation authorities.

Bigger aircraft

“Our plan is to extend the runway strip from the current 3.5km to accommodate bigger aircraft. The current one is Category A, which only allows aircraft such as the Boeing 767 or Airbus 310,” said Mr Agong'.

The committee also heard that the only cargo flights that operated from the airport delivered electronics, clothes and other accessories for local consumption, but left empty because there were no goods to be flown back from the town. 

“We have only two international cargo planes, namely Etihad and Emirates, which land twice a week full of goods. The main challenge is lack of partnership with farmers so they can also raise crops meant for export,” said Agong'.

When Mr Wamatangi asked why the airport managers had not built another runway yet there was expansive land next to the airfield, he was told it was not permitted by aviation regulations.

“Airplanes are supposed to land against the wind and the position where the trees are, which assist in trapping carbon emission from the planes, would not be an ideal place to set up another runway. But it could be used for recreational facilities in future,” said Agong'.

Senator Enock Wambua (Kitui) asked why the airport had failed to attract more airlines despite the region having a large number of tourist attraction sites.

The airport manager explained that most airlines had shied away from the airport due to the high cost of fuel. Although there is an oil depot in Eldoret, the airport has to source fuel from Nairobi.

"It would be good if fuel is bought from Eldoret cheaply,” said Agong'.

The matter of storage facilities to accommodate additional cargo was also raised. Currently, the airport warehouse can hold 1.2 million tonnes of cargo while the cold storage capacity is 250 tonnes.

The senators asked local leaders to ensure that citizens engages in horticulture to promote the export of local produce. According to the airport management, the facility is still regarded as a non-profit entity despite being granted autonomy to join other facilities in the aviation sector.

The managers also stressed the need for additional funding to rehabilitate airfield lighting.

Kenya Airports Authority acting General Manager for Operations Dokers Chemo called on the Senate to ensure that they received funds for operations across the country.

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