Kisumu International Airport serves as a major entry point for western region as well as the East African Community.
It is the third largest international airport in the country after Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (Nairobi) and Moi International Airport (Mombasa).
The airport has undergone a major transformation since 2004 after a master plan study done by Netherlands Airport Company (NACO) recommended an expansion of the length of the runway from two kilometres to 3.3 kilometres.
It also called for the widening of the runway from 30 metres to 45 metres.
According to KAA’s General Manager in charge of Projects Engineering Services, Mr Fred Odawo, the expansion is meant to enable the facility accommodate bigger aircraft in the Code D category.
“We had to extend the runway by 300 metres to 3.3km and also strengthen it. We now expect much heavier aircraft than the initial Code C aircraft.
Four months ago, Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) spent Sh579 million on the project.
The project that lasted about 10 days and which ended on March 28, was awarded to China Overseas Engineering Group Company Limited (COVEC).
Part of the expansion programme involved increasing the thickness of the runway and upgrading the pavements.
According to the engineers, the middle section of the runway needed thickening to be on the same level with the rest of the stretch.
This was meant to get rid of bumpy sections of the runway. “We had to add a layer of 50mm of asphalt on the existing pavement to strengthen the runway,” said Mr Odawo in an interview with Sunday Nation.
He added that the only work remaining was the rehabilitation of the 300-metre shoulder on both sides of the runway.
This is an area immediately beyond the edge of the pavement prepared to provide a transition between the pavement and the adjacent surface for aircraft running off the pavement, drainage, and sometimes blast protection.
Once the runway shoulders are expanded, big aircraft will safely land and take off, he said.
The KAA was exploiting other technologies to enable the rehabilitation of the shoulders to continue without threatening the safety of aircraft.
“The initial expansion of the shoulders would mean we excavate and do a layer of 300mm and test the suitability before moving to the next.
“The problem with this avenue is that you will expose aircraft to danger should you leave the shoulders open,” said Mr Odawo.
He however maintained that the runway is currently safe for use by aircraft landing and taking off.
“By the time all the rehabilitation work is done, Kisumu International Airport will be ready to receive traffic for the Afrocities Conference scheduled for 2022,” said Mr Odawo.
By 2004 the airport had a human traffic of 200,000 passengers.
Annually, the airport records 500,000 passengers. “Since the expansions work started at Kisumu International Airport, the number of passengers passing through it has more than doubled.
“This makes it necessary for us to expand the terminal building,” he said.
Kisumu County Director for Tourism Thomas Ouko said the expansion work is crucial.
“It is a positive move considering that we have been pushing KAA for direct flights from Entebbe in Uganda and Mwanza (Tanzania) to Kisumu,” Mr Ouko said.
He added that the expansion project will result in more international tourist arrivals due to the airport’s enhanced capacity and bigger aircraft using it.
“Kisumu remains an entry port for the Lake Region Economic Bloc counties and the East African Community.”
Currently, the airport mostly handles domestic flights by Kenya Airways, Jambojet, Fly540, Britex Airlines, Freedom Airline Express, Silverstone Airlines and Fly Safarilink Aviation.
Fly Safarilink Limited station manager Fredrick Musiko, who welcomed the renovation, said it would benefit the airlines and travellers.