Nairobi: Africa's Premier Aviation Hub?

The ever growing stature of Nairobi as the region’s aviation, communications, medical, banking and diplomatic hub has been cited as one of the contributing factors that have increased the airport’s traffic levels. (All images via author)

Denis Gathanju looks at how Nairobi’s JKIA is set to transform into an aerotropolis.

The ever growing stature of Nairobi as the region’s aviation, communications, medical, banking and diplomatic hub has been cited as one of the contributing factors that have increased the airport’s traffic levels. (All images via author)

Once dogged by a crumbling infrastructure and misguided investment policies that were never implemented, Kenya has recently introduced a massive infrastructural investment policy largely driven by the demands of a robust and ever growing economy and guided by the nation’s vision to be a middle-income and industrialized nation in 2030.
The Kenyan government invest millions of dollars in upgrading its existing infrastructure as well as planning new developments across the country.  The transport sector is key among the planned infrastructural upgrades; over the years it has been largely ignored in terms of rehabilitation and development because it has been starved of financing.  The country’s transport infrastructure has declined into widespread dilapidation, with some facilities having received no upgrading or regular maintenance since they were first constructed in the 1970s.  This, coupled with the nations’ progressively expanding population, has further put a strain on the existing and aging facilities and consequently stretched them to the brink.
One such facility is the nations’ principle airport that also doubles up as the regions’ passenger and cargo hub, Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).  The ever growing stature of Nairobi as the region’s aviation, communications, medical, banking and diplomatic hub has been cited as one of the contributing factors that have increased traffic at the airport.  The rising Kenyan middle-class and expansion of small and medium-sized businesses has also contributed to the growth of passenger and cargo traffic at the airport.  The fact that multinational companies and business as well as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have chosen Nairobi to host their regional headquarters has fuelled the growth of the airport.  Additionally, Nairobi is the only third-world country city to host the global headquarters of a United Nations Agency, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).  Nairobi constantly hosts major international and regional business and diplomatic meetings.

 
Kenya Airways Expansion
On the other hand, national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) has embarked on an ambitious route expansion and fleet modernization strategy over the past decade in which the airline has increased its passenger and cargo volumes into and out of Nairobi while acquiring larger aircraft at the same time.  This, according to the airlines’ CEO Titus Naikuni, is in line with the airlines’ strategy to model its expansion programme hinged under the airline-airport hub concept similar to that built around KLM at Amsterdam’s Schiphol and British Airways at London’s Heathrow.  Kenya Airways has over the past decade expanded its routes in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.  The airline seeks to be the dominant carrier in Africa.
A model of the expanded JKIA, which shows the new Terminal 4 on the left.

Moreover, the growth and expansion of the Kenyan economy has fuelled trade and commerce not only in Kenya, but also in the entire East and Central Africa region.  As Nairobi is the gateway to the region, many regional and international carriers have expanded their route networks to Nairobi.  This has led to massive congestion at the airport and has inevitably strains the existing facilities at the airport.   “The congestion at the airport is slowing down our growth and the Government needs to do something about it,” says Naikuni.
He also laments that the airline has on many occasions been forced to park its aircraft close to the State Pavilion at the airport that is not serviced by fuel hydrants.  The airline has consequently applied for permission to use the facilities at the Old Embakasi Airport and passenger terminal building adjacent to JKIA.  This is in line with the airline’s current and future fleet expansion programme in which Kenya Airways will take delivery of the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner in 2010.  KQ currently has 25 aircraft hangars at JKIA, which according to the airline are not sufficient.
According to Naikuni, the condition of the airport is costing the country a lot and he warned that it risks losing its status as the regional hub to neighbours such as Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, which has in the recent past undergone an expansion programme.  Bole is the passenger and cargo hub of Ethiopian Airlines, one of the largest and oldest African carriers. Like Kenya Airways, Ethiopian Airlines has embarked on a massive route expansion programme in Africa and Asia. Rwanda’s Kigali International Airport, currently undergoing an expansion phase, is a growing competitor to JKIA.  The airport seeks to provide and passenger and cargo services in the Great Lakes Region as an alternative to Nairobi.
 
$200 million expansion
Built 28 years ago, JKIA was designed to handle about 2.5 million passengers, but with the impact of  the aforementioned factors the airport is currently stretched beyond limits as it handles about 5 million passengers annually.  This has called for an immediate upgrade of the facility while demand for modern facilities at the airport continues to rise.
The Kenyan government has been quick to note that airports are no longer mere entry and exit points, but are also vital engines that keep the economy humming.  Through the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the government agency mandated to operate and maintain Kenya’s airports, over the past two years the Kenyan government has earmarked more than $200 million towards the rehabilitation and expansion of various facilities at the airport.
National carrier Kenya Airways has embarked on an ambitious route expansion and fleet modernization strategy over the past decade in which the airline has increased its passenger and cargo volumes into and out of Nairobi. This, according to the airlines’ CEO Titus Naikuni, is in line with the airlines’ strategy to model its expansion programme hinged under the airline-airport hub concept similar to that built around KLM at Amsterdam’s Schiphol. This Kenya Airways jet is parked on the new apron next to where the new Terminal 4 is being constructed.

The programme, which commenced in 2007, is being carried out in three phases that will see the airports’ passenger and cargo handling capacity increased.  Once construction and upgrades are complete, the airport will also be able to handle about 10 million passengers and more than 500,000 tonnes of cargo annually.  When construction is completed in 2013, JKIA is expected to double in size from its current built-up area of about 276,232sq ft (25,662m2) to  594,424 (55,222m2).
According to George Muhoho, the Managing Director of the KAA, the planned expansion programmes at JKIA are a calculated move to not only increase the capacity of the facility, but also to turn the airport into Africa’s premier aviation hub that offers seamless links into and out of Africa.
Says Muhoho: “Though progress has been delayed due to a shortage of cement, Phase I of the programme have already been finalized, and the second phase has already started.”
According to Muhoho, the already completed Phase I of the programme has expanded the current aircraft parking space and increased it from 2,152,852sq ft (200,000 m2), catering for 23 stands to well over 3,229,278 (300,000 m2) for 37 stands.  Phase I has also included the construction of two additional taxiways.
Also expanded in Phase I is the apron that stretches from the proposed Terminal 4 passenger complex to the cargo village. This, according to Lucy Mbugua, KAA General Manager in charge of marketing and business development, will allow simultaneous loading of cargo onto five wide-bodied aircraft as opposed to the previous three.
JKIA is one of the fastest growing cargo hubs in Africa.  To ensure that the airport remains competitive, the KAA has issued tenders for the construction of three warehouses under the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) initiative.
According to Muhoho, financing for the entire Phase I programme has come from KAA at a total cost of US$40.2 million.
 
Airport Security
“The second phase of the programme has commenced,” notes Muhoho.  “It will include the construction of a new Terminal 4 passenger and cargo complex that will handle domestic departures and arrivals as well as international arrivals.  The total cost of these is projected to be about US$72.3 million with the World Bank contributing US$14 million.
“This phase will also include the construction of a three storey car park complex with a basement and a footbridge linking the car park to the arrivals terminal complex.  It will also involve the creation of seven new boarding gates that will increase boarding gates at the airport to 21,” he explains.
The already completed Phase I of the expansion programme has increased the current aircraft parking space from 2,152,852sq ft, catering for 23 stands to well over 3,229,278 for 37 stands.

Once the second phase is completed in 21 months’ time, it will not only transform JKIA into an ultra modern facility, but will make the airport more secure as well.  Airport security is of paramount importance.  Kenya has bore the brunt of terrorism in the past and security was one of the features to be considered at Africa’s second busiest airport.
While many airports across the world have erected bollards or reinforced-concrete blast walls to enhance security, JKIA is going a step further by keeping away vehicular traffic from the terminal buildings.  Blast barriers and shrapnel protectors, disguised as planters, will guide cars toward a remote facility where passengers will disembark and undergo security checks.  This makes JKIA, the first major airport in the world that will not allow vehicular traffic to stop in front of the terminal buildings.
Security will further be enhanced at the third phase of the expansion programme.  According to Muhoho, departing and arriving passengers get to intermingle freely in the lobby.
“Under the third and final upgrading phase,” explains Muhoho, “we intend to put up an additional floor on top of the current Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 buildings as well as on Terminal 3 that will have arriving passengers allocated their own space while departing passengers will have their own space,” adds Muhoho.
Phase III of the programme is has been allocated US$92 million that will include the renovation of Terminals 1 and 2 as well as the international arrivals terminal building.  This phase will also include the construction of an airside corridor that will separate arriving and departing passengers as well as the erection of 12 new boarding bridges.
With the planned expansion programme in motion, the strategic location of JKIA and the ever growing stature of Nairobi as a regional banking, aviation, medical, manufacturing and diplomatic hub, JKIA continues to undergo increased aircraft movement.  Foreign carriers have been trooping to JKIA over the past three years to take advantage of the new opportunities from the region.
Notes Ms. Mbugua: “We are happy to see more airlines choose JKIA as their first stop in Africa.  This is a stamp of approval in our marketing efforts for the airport.”
According to Mbugua, JKIA is striving to remain competitive and offer quality service to passengers and airlines that operate at the airport. In so doing, the KAA has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with South Korea’s Incheon International Airport to help benchmark JKIA in terms of product innovation and service delivery.
Once construction and upgrades are complete, the airport will also be able to handle about 10 million passengers and more than 500,000 tonnes of cargo annually.

It is because of such measures that JKIA was able to scoop the OAG-Routes Marketing Award for 2009, its second award in as many years.
Aside from expanding the airport, JKIA has entered into a Public-Private Partnership with various local and international firms that will create an African ‘aerotropolis’.  Under the partnership, JKIA will become a self-contained mini-city that will have an airport expo centre that will comprise a 5-star and a 4-star hotel, a convention centre, five office blocks, a VIP/tourist hospital and serviced apartments.  Also planned under the partnership is the construction of a nine-hole golf course and entertainment venue.