Nairobi — The third busiest airport in Kenya has seen a transformation from domestic to international standards, raising hopes it will spur regional economic growth and lower the historic poverty levels.
Kisumu Airport had been serving just ten airlines flying domestic routes and only carrying passengers.
In October 2008, the expansion and the upgrading of the airport began, with a total of Sh3 billion being set aside by the government and the World Bank to improve the strategic airport.
The runway, which was initially 2.1 kilometres was extended a kilometre longer, while its width was extended by 15 meters to accommodate larger planes.
The airport's apron has also been expanded, and a new terminus that can attend to up to 700 passengers per hour was built. The terminal has the ability to check in passengers for eight flights simultaneously.
Although the airport was intended to be completed in 22 months, construction works were delayed due to constant wrangles between the Kenya Airports Authority and members of the Kogony clan, who live in areas surrounding the airport.
The clan complained on several occasions that they had not been compensated for the land they surrendered for the expansion of the airport and that they had been side lined in the allocation of jobs at the facility during the expansion.
In October last year, members of the community who had been compensated land in Muhoroni moved to the airport and threatened to block further construction and fencing, claiming that they had not been given land as agreed, in Muhoroni.
The protesters claimed that private developers had been allowed to build on the land that was earmarked for the airport expansion.
During the protests, Kogony ward councillor Joseph Osir said the community had been promised an ultramodern primary school with two streams at the cost of Sh50 million, and that they could not understand why the school that was under construction was downgraded to a one-stream one, done to a cost of Sh19 million.
The councillor, flanked by his nominated counterpart George Weda, claimed that according to documents in their possession, the community gave a total of 206.09 hectares of land for the expansion.
"The title deed on the lease certificate indicates 362.9 hectares, thus say 158.81 hectares of our land is in dispute," Mr Osir said.
The community demanded that construction activities at the airport be stopped until their issues had been addressed and a lasting solution found.
During the times of solving dispute, construction works at the facility were halted several times, pushing the completion to close to one year later.
The issues raised by the community were later addressed, enabling construction to resume. For now, the relocated Usoma Primary School is still under construction.
The completion of the construction works at the airport sparks new hopes for investors in the western region, who are optimistic that the expansion and upgrading to international standards will boost the region's economy by opening up new business opportunities.
Farmers and businessmen have started introducing new crops, products and investments in preparation for the commissioning of the airport and introduction of cargo flights.
Earlier this month, the authority unveiled a new raft of investment opportunities, which included provision of aviation fuel, ground handling services and the management of an automated car park.
"We are now focusing on enhancing new business opportunities and encouraging people to open up more," KAA managing director Stephen Gichuki said during a stake holder's business forum in the lake side city.
After commissioning, Kisumu International Airport will have large aircraft like the Boeing B737 and B767 landing safely.
The third busiest airport in the country has recorded steady growth in passenger numbers. In December last year, passenger numbers increased to 24,271 up from 16,989 in 2009.
The expansion which has lasted two years is expected to offer an estimated 30,000 jobs and boost bilateral trade.
Apart from the direct earning expected from businesses and employment, Nyanza Province and the whole of western region expects to receive a higher number of domestic and foreign tourists.
Locals also enjoy enhanced security while value for land adjacent to the facility has appreciated tremendously.
Several construction projects have also sprung up around the facility while numerous hotels have been built or are under construction within and around the lake side city.
Even nearby towns like Ahero are now feeling the growth ahead of the commissioning of the new facility which will greatly open up the region for serious business with the rest of the world. Fish, horticultural products will now be exported directly to Europe and other world markets.
During a visit to the facility earlier this month however, the PS Cyrus Njiru of the Ministry of Transport said that the facility will not hold cargo flights yet, but collaboration between several stake holders would speed up cargo handling facilities and the emergence of cargo flights.
"The second phase of the airport expansion will concentrate on handling cargo flights, being the biggest need of the area that requires economic growth and poverty eradication" Mr Njiru said.
"We can now proudly say that the airport expansion and upgrading has been successful despite the various challenges that the Ministry and the Kenya Airports Authority faced" Mr Njiru said.
The PS attributed the delay in completion to the need to meet international standards and expectations of travellers, now that the facility was being transformed.
"The government needed to deliver a fist class international airport and fit it in the class stipulated by Vision 2030," Mr Njiru said.