Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki launched on Friday the first phase of the modernization of Nairobi 's Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), the largest in east Africa, and said the airport was poised to become a leading aviation hub in Africa and the world.
Officiating at the ground breaking ceremony of the modernization program, Kibaki noted that the project will not only increase the capacity of the airport, but also enhance its competitiveness in offering world-class services.
The overall project, which needs a total investment of about 1. 23 billion U.S. dollars, is jointly financed by the Kenya Airport Authority and the World Bank, with the latter providing 10 percent of the money.
About a month ago, Kenya Airports Authority, after a nine-month strict bidding process, signed a contract of 2.6 billion Kenyan shillings (about 37.2 million dollars) with China Wu Yi Company for expansion of the JKIA, whose capacity is overstretched.
Noting that the passenger traffic and cargo volume at the airport had far exceeded the initial design capacity, Kibaki said the expansion and modernization of the facilities were projected to serve the needs of the customers up to the year of 2024.
"I note in particular that the passenger traffic at JKIA has increased from 3.5 million in 2004 to 4.4 million this year. In addition, the amount of cargo handled at this airport increased from 192,300 tons in 2004 to 220,900 in 2005," he said.
He pointed out that the JKIA formed an important pillar for the growth and expansion of Kenya's economy, adding the airport will propel the economy to higher levels of growth and in particular the tourism sector.
"Another area that is expected to benefit from the expansion is trade. Our export of horticulture and floriculture produce has continued to thrive as a result of increased utilization of available cargo facilities," Kibaki added.
Noting that the airport was Kenya's window to the rest of the world, the president said the quality of work in the construction and refurbishment of the facilities must reflect and be in accordance with international standards.
"Those who arrive in this country from other parts of the world draw their first impression of Kenya and Kenyans from what they see and experience here. Therefore such issues such as cleanliness, proper maintenance of airport facilities and overall image of the airport should be given priority," he emphasized.
According to officials from the JKIA, When the airport was built, it was expected to handle 2.5 million passengers annually, but the traffic has almost doubled, with 4.2 million passengers passing through it last year.
The much needed expansion project has been divided into three phases to avoid disruption of the airport's operations, they said, adding that the first phase includes the construction of an apron - -- the paved area immediately in front of airport buildings, on which aircraft are loaded and unloaded. It also includes construction of taxiways and extension of the fuel hydrant system.
"We want the project to be ready in 10 months, and there will be no option for whatever," said George Muhoho, managing director of Kenya Airports Authority. "We cannot afford to wait a day beyond the 10-month deadline that we have given," he added.
Wan Dongsheng, China Wu Yi Company's general manager for Kenya, said although the deadline was tight, he was confident his company would finish the project on time.
"We are delighted to be given the opportunity to join endeavors of upgrading the airport to the international standards. It is an opportunity as well as a challenge. As one of the top accredited construction companies in the world, we will take this opportunity to show Kenya and other African countries the trustworthiness and competitiveness of a Chinese company," he said.
The expansion is just part of Kenya's efforts to improve its infrastructure. The Kenyan government has embarked on a major upgrading of other airports and airfields across the country in view of the strategic importance of the aviation infrastructure.
According to President Kibaki, some of the airports and airfields involved in this expansion program include Kisumu airport in west Kenya, Wilson airport in Nairobi, Malindi airport in the coastal area, among others.
"In Kisumu, the airport is expected to be expanded to handle larger aircraft in order to further open up the western Kenya region to investors in various sub-sectors of the economy and in particular, the development of the western Kenya tourism circuit, fisheries and agriculture," Kibaki said.
The President noted that the expansion of Kisumu airport will enable passengers and cargo to be airlifted directly to regional markets, thereby creating investment opportunities, jobs and stimulating economic growth. .