BY Dickens Wasonga.
The 3 billion shillings Kisumu International Airport upgrading project whose construction attracted a lot of controversy three years ago when it was launched will now be officially operational by the end of May this year.
This follows the successful completion of the upgrading works carried out by the China Overseas Engineering Company COVEC, which won the tender in October 2008 to do the project funded by the government of Kenya and the World Bank. It was expected to last just 22 months.
Giving highlights of the progress of the project so far to journalists in Kisumu the Airport manager Mr. Joseph Okumu said the project delayed by a few months after the initial works which included extension of the current runway by just a kilometer to two was changed to 3.3 kilometers by 45 meters wide.
Mr. Okumu said even the terminal building which was originally designed to have just the ground floor was modified to include mezzanine floor in order to accommodate more passengers and give room for additional commercial opportunities that will come with the new facility.
According to him, a lot of improvement works was undertaken alongside the main project. He gave the example of the improved navigation facilities which saw a state of the art very high Omni directional Radio Range facility installed.
In order to fit into its new international status, the airport administration has been organizing a lot of training of the personnel at the facility.
Recently over ten of its crew drawn from the fire and rescue departments were taken through a course on diving skills.
Procedures have also been enhanced to meet set standards and the facility now have a marine rescue committee and not long ago it put to test its emergency procedures by holding an emergency drill where all the relevant agencies participated.
The manager added that all the airport staff have also undertaken a cause on safety and security awareness and were now better prepared to handle safety and security concerns of the passengers whose numbers are expected to rise soon.
The airport has a capacity to handle 3000,000 passengers per year at the moment but it will handle additional 2million passengers for a similar period upon upgrading.
When complete the new terminal will be handling both domestic and international passengers of an estimated 700 per hour.
Growth in number of passenger has been witnessed since the upgrading began at the airport and today it has daily flights to Mwanza and Entebbe together with an increased chartered operator flights.
Jet link, Fly 540 operating in conjunction with East Africa Safaris Express and national carrier Kenya Airways currently has scheduled fights.
They have all increased their frequency with Jet link operating 6 flights daily, KQ 4 and Fly 540 doing 3, said Okumu.
Amongst other facilities the new terminal will have dedicated water and power supply system and a state of the art stand by generators.
Modern safety and security equipment, modern passenger processing facilities, business class lounges, and self-service customer kiosks for departing clients will be available.
Aircraft hanger for maintenance of aircraft which was previously lacking will also be included and taxi operators and other motorists will now enjoy automated car park facilities.
Air craft such as Boeng 767 or Airbus 300 and 310 will now be able to land or take off at the upgraded facility.
There will be several business and rental opportunities which will be offered to interested business people in competitive tenders. The Kenya Airports Authority will soon advertise the opportunities to the public through the local dailies.
The opportunities will include ground handling cargo transit sheds, fuel firms, car park management, airport advertising and flying schools. Others will include duty-free shops, restaurants amongst others.
A lot of jobs will therefore be created directly or indirectly to several jobless people not only in Kisumu but throughout the region.
The manager disclosed that more airport staff will be hired by KAA. Some will be absorbed to work as customer service personnel, safety and security staff, operational and maintenance staff, etc.
We expect to have more airline staff, more taxi operators while parastatal and other government ministries or agencies such as KRA, immigration, KEBS will now have to post their teams here. Horticultural companies, additional health staff and medical personnel, more caterers and ground handling staff will be required; he added.
People have already reaping huge benefits from the airport project which initially faced a stiff opposition from the members of Kogony clan on whose land the upgrading work were to be done.
Many have since been compensated for the land acquired by the project and some now live in permanent houses constructed from the proceeds of the sale of land.
Locals also enjoy enhanced security while value for land adjacent to the facility has appreciated tremendously. Several construction projects have also sprung up around the facility while numerous hotels have been built or are under construction within and around the lake side city.
Even the sate light towns as far as Ahero are now feeling the growth ahead of the commissioning of the new facility which will greatly open up the region for serious business undertakings with the rest of the world. Fish, horticultural products will now be exported directly to Europe and other world markets.
Other beneficiaries are those currently residing in sprawling Kisumu slum areas of Bandani, Riat, Obunga and Otonglo which neighbor the airport which are currently under slum upgrading program.
A modern school is being established at Usoma. The modern primary school with a capacity of 500 pupils is near completion and was built at a cost of KSH 20 million from KAA. Its second phase will cost slightly more.
Access road is also under construction to link the airport and the Kisian junction and will help to rehabilitate the now dilapidated section between Kisian and Otonglo.
This facility will be an added advantage in several fronts. It will be a major economic boost not only to the people around here but even into the national economy.
Tourism will get a boost as well as more international visitors land to sample the local culture and tour some of the numerous attraction sites within the western Kenya tourism circuit; Said Okumu.