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Jomo Kenyatta International Airport

Tire burst exposes Nairobi's airport vulnerability

Wolfgang H. Thome, eTN  Aug 16, 2011

(eTN) - A burst tire on a Jetlink plane coming from Eldoret in Western Kenya once again exposed the vulnerability of Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), as the jet "got stuck" on the runway after landing. While passengers were swiftly and efficiently evacuated, the plane was surrounded by emergency service vehicles, bringing air traffic to a temporary halt. Flights into JKIA were put into a holding pattern while departing services had to be delayed, with aircraft ready to take off returning to the terminal.

The plane was eventually towed from the runway and new tires fixed before it later resumed flights again, but industry observers promptly pointed to the airport’s key deficiency, having only one runway. While a second runway and taxiway is planned as part of JKIA’s expansion over the coming years. For the time being, whenever there is an incident on the single runway, inbound traffic has to be diverted to other airports in Kenya or the region, costing operators dearly and disrupting passenger itineraries, especially for those with connecting flights.

Entebbe International Airport is presently the only major airport in the region with two runways, although the second one is too short for many of the larger modern planes, though regularly used by in particular light aircraft and the UN’s turbo-prop aircraft based at their Entebbe Africa operation base.

Said a regular aviation source from Nairobi in a communication overnight:

"This was a relatively light problem, as tires can be replaced easily and a plane then towed, but in case of a more serious incident on the runway, Nairobi may be shut down for long hours or even days. In this day and age, this is not acceptable. Kenya depends on constant availability of JKIA for cargo and passenger flights. KAA [Kenya Airports Authority] has failed the industry in so many areas, power outages, construction delays, and lack of foresight. The aviation industry has for many years demanded a second runway to be constructed, to allow for more traffic and to create redundancy in case one runway has to be closed. But everyone can see what is happening at KAA.

"First, it was a case of patronage and nepotism, and now it is a case of incompetence, plain and simple. Our government must wake up to reality and listen to the aviation operators, not their bureaucrats, many of whom are useless. The construction of a second runway should begin immediately, yesterday was a reminder what problems a closure of Nairobi can bring. It will disrupt Kenya Airways at the expense of, for instance, Ethiopian during JKIA closures. It will disrupt tourism and trade, because you cannot tell people to divert to Mombasa and then come by road to the capital. It will disrupt flower and fish exports, and produce will go to waste, and our partners abroad will not tolerate a disruption in their supply chain. It is good government is building a lot of roads, but considering that they built a white elephant airport in Eldoret, they should have invested in JKIA instead first before embarking on that project."

Other aviation sources in Kenya have in the past demanded that KAA’s board and management be sacked after a series of power outages, which brought traffic repeatedly to a halt in recent months and that the contractors working on the airport expansion be instructed to work around the clock to speed up completion of new buildings and aircraft parking spaces. Nairobi is recognized as East Africa’s premier aviation hub but has for long suffered from overcrowding and is of late struggling with slots, too, as more and more airlines ideally would want to fly to Nairobi but came to realize that congestion and operational problems, as seen yesterday again, need to be resolved first.

Tire burst exposes Nairobi's airport vulnerability
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