On Monday, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi was closed for almost seven hours due to mechanical issues with a Singapore Airlines cargo plane.
As the airport’s single runway was scrutinized, past unsuccessful attempts by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to deal with the increasing number of passengers passing through the region’s largest airport came to light.
With a length of 4,117 meters, width of 45 meters, and paved shoulders measuring 15 meters, JKIA’s runway is classified as Code E and can accommodate wide-body airplanes like the Boeing B747.
However, the KAA’s efforts to construct a new terminal, known as the Greenfield, and a second runway to address capacity gaps were thwarted for various reasons, including competing interests for the tender and state corruption.
In 2018, when the KAA opted for a second runway backed by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the project was later cancelled to allow a review of its economic value.
A second runway would have allowed flights to land and take off when the first runway was unavailable.
JKIA, East Africa’s leading airport, was constructed in the 1970s to handle 2.5 million passengers annually but presently struggles with more than seven million passengers yearly.
The majority of JKIA’s regional rivals have two runways, such as Ethiopia’s Bole International Airport.
When JKIA operations are halted, planes are either grounded at small airports like Wilson, Mombasa International, Kisumu, and Eldoret, or large ones in neighboring countries like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere International Airport and Uganda’s Entebbe International Airport.
Kenya has other airports capable of handling big airplanes, such as Moi International Airport, which is the nation’s second-largest airport and can accommodate big planes like the Airbus A-310 and Boeing B767 Series, and Kisumu International Airport, which can handle all small to medium-sized aircraft like the Boeing 737-700, Airbus A-320, and Embraer ERJ 190-100.