Services at the Isiolo International Airport will take longer to resume following a shoddy upgrade of the 1.4-kilometre runway and delayed construction of a Sh20.9 million cargo shed which was to be completed by July.
It has been revealed that the contractor who was assigned to maintain and repair the runway, which has several cracks, did shoddy work and then left under unclear circumstances.
The cracks on the runway, which extends to Meru County, are so worrying that journalists were barred from accessing the area and when officials visit, they are forced to wait at the airport's offices.
Repair of the runway and establishment of the cargo shed which should hold 10,000 tonnes daily all cost about Sh40 million.
The contract for the cargo shed had been awarded to Reliance City Housing Company Limited.
The Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) had in May this year announced that services would resume in two months’ time, with the slated completion of the shed expected to lure miraa traders into embracing air transport for their produce to Nairobi and other destinations.
Commissioned in 2017
The Sh2.7 billion airport, which was commissioned by President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017, is part of the State’s Sh2.5 trillion Lapsset project. It was billed as a game-changer for the economy of northern Kenya but has never been fully operational.
Transport Principal Secretary Solomon Kitungu said procurement of a new contractor to undertake the work is underway and will be complete by December.
“The contractor did shoddy work and left but the government is in the process of reassigning the work to a new contractor so that the process is expedited,” said Mr Kitungu, adding that the delayed resumption of services is preventing realisation of anticipated gains.
KAA Managing Director Alex Gitari said the repair and maintenance of the runway, which will cost Sh20 million, will take two months.
Mr Gitari said if funds are made available, the runway could be extended to 2.5 kilometres to allow landing of bigger planes but did not give a definite time frame for this.
“We currently do not have funds for the runway extension but are hopeful that we will get some allocation soonest possible,” said Mr Gitari during a recent tour of the facility accompanied by a delegation from the Presidential Delivery Unit.
Before Covid-19 struck in March last year and the government imposed air travel restrictions, the airport, with an annual passenger capacity of 350,000, operated below its capacity and was being used by small chartered aircraft (unscheduled flights).
The airport has the potential to grow as a cargo hub in the upper eastern region but lack of adequate infrastructure such as aviation lights to allow planes to land and take off at night and cargo sheds has prevented its full utilisation.
Lack of political goodwill has been cited as among reasons for the delayed pickup of services by the local community that is predominantly pastoralist.
Isiolo Governor Mohamed Kuti asked the government to expedite works so that the airport is fully operational, saying it will, besides promoting business, boost the local economy.