Firm on the spot over delayed Nakuru airport project

Nakuru City

An aerial view of Nakuru town as seen on November 30, 2021. 

Photo credit: Courtesy

The slow progress of works to upgrade the Lanet military airstrip into an international airport is causing frustration among stakeholders in Nakuru, which achieved city status two years ago.

Nakuru remains the only city in Kenya without its own airport. The delay has sparked calls from the business community for the Ministry of Transport to expedite the project, citing its potential to catalyse economic growth in the South Rift region.

“Nakuru significantly contributes to the national Gross Domestic Product through horticulture and tourism.

The absence of an airport hampers our ability to fully harness its economic potential,” said Mr Njuguna Kamau, a spokesperson for the business community.

His sentiments were echoed by Jesse Karanja, chairman of the People’s Power Watch.

“The airport will open up international markets for our flower exports, providing a significant boost to the economy,” he said.

Naivasha is renowned as the heartland of Kenya’s floriculture, being home to several leading flower firms.

The area produces close to 70 per cent of Kenya’s flowers exports and relies on refrigerated trucks to ferry produce to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Beyond the agriculture sector, the airport’s completion is expected to create job opportunities and stimulate ancillary industries, including logistics and hospitality. Additionally, it will enhance healthcare access by facilitating patient transfers to Nairobi.

Nakuru County Commissioner Loyford Kibaara, urged the contractor to speed up the work, emphasising its transformation potential.

"I want the contractor to fast track the project, which will transform the economic fortunes of the region and the lives of the residents. It is behind schedule," he said while on a tour of the project recently.

During a site inspection in March last year, Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen had instructed the contractor to expedite the project.

Despite this, little progress has been made, with the first phase of the upgrade—initially slated for completion in August 2021—still ongoing. The groundbreaking for the Sh3 billion first phase of the project was done in December 2020.

It was to include extending the 1.7-kilometre runway to 3.61 kilometres to accommodate much larger aircraft, construction of taxiways and drainage works.

Other works to be undertaken within phase one are construction of terminal buildings and a lounge, erecting a fence, building an air rescue and firefighting facility and setting up of parking areas.

The contractor, Ongata Construction Works, will also establish a power substation and a patrol access road.

The Nation has learnt that the phase one upgrade is about 30 per cent complete. The idea to construct an airport in Nakuru was conceived in 2004. In 2011, a 600-acre piece of land in Pipeline area was acquired for the planned construction.

At least Sh250million was allocated by the government for preparatory work in the 2011/2012 fiscal year.

However, plans by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to build the airport on the land were abandoned after the National Environment Management Authority declined to approve the project on grounds that the airport land lay along a flamingo migration route.

The plans remained in abeyance until 2017 when former Governor Lee Kinyanjui’s administration revived them. Once completed, the Lanet International Airport will not only bolster Nakuru's standing as a key player in Kenya's tourism and agriculture sectors, but also contribute to its growth as an urban centre.

"We are confident that the airport will be a game-changer for Nakuru and the entire region,” said Mr Kamau.