Arusha Times (Arusha)

Tanzania: New Apron, Terminal Building for Arusha Airport

There are no immediate plans to extend the Arusha airport runway although a new apron will be built, according to the airport manager Ms Esther Dede .

Also in the pipeline is the construction of a new terminal building to accommodate increasing passenger traffic, but the length of the runway will remain the same at the meantime.

She said the expansion and modernisation of facilities at the Arusha airport are contained in its master plan whose implementation is subject to availability of funds.

Under it, a new terminal building will be constructed behind the current one and hence give enough space for the taxi ways for increasing number of planes landing and taking off from the airport located at Kisongo.

Ms Dede was responding to questions on whether the airport runway would be extended to cater for large aircrafts after the recent unannounced landing of an Ethiopian jet at the tiny airfield.

"We have a master plan for the airport. But I have not seen anywhere that the runway will be extended. This airport will continue to cater for small and medium range aircrafts", she said.

She acknowledged increasing calls from stakeholders in the travel industry for the expansion of one of the busiest airports in the country to enable it to handle larger aircraft.

However, the official said that has not been contained in the present master plan and that unless that is done, Arusha airport runway would remain with the same length; 1,620 metres.

"We are OK. Our runway is up to standard that is why it did not suffer the impact of the Ethiopian jet. But our airport is not meant for large aircrafts", she pointed out.

The unexpected landing of the Ethiopian-registered Boeing 767-300 ER jet with over 200 passengers and crew in the airport last December has brought the airfield into the national focus, including its safety concerns.

The jet, operated by an aviation firm in the Horn of Africa , landed unannounced after an apparent lack of communication with the Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) where it was destined.

Although the giant plane landed 'safely' and later managed to take off days later through application of specialized equipment, it skidded into the grass at the end of the 1,620 metre long runway.

It took two days for the engineers from Ethiopia and local ones to tow the 'giant bird' back to the tarmac and on the right direction in the runway to enable it exit the airport it was not designed for.

According to aviation experts, Boeing 767-300ER requires a runway with a maximum length of 2,341 metres landing weight. KIA's runway has a 3,200 metre long runway.

Arusha airport is one of the busiest in the country, according to an operations officer with the Tanzania Airports Authority (TAA) stationed there Mr. Roland G. Mwalyambi.

"It handles about 50 flights a day but can go up to 80 flights during the high tourist season", he said an interview. Many of them are charters mainly to the national parks, he said.

Regular flights are operated by Precision Air and Tropical Air, the official explained, noting, however, that the two firms suspended their flights at the airport during the time the Ethiopian jet was stuck there.

The largest aircraft the airport can handle is ATR 72 carrying a maximum of 72 passengers. Within the country, such aircrafts are operated by PrecisionAir and have been landing there daily.

Arusha airport was closed for two years in 2004/2005 during a major upgrading which aimed to increase passengers it handled to 150,000 and 15,000 aircraft movements per year.

Before its closure in 2004, the number of passengers it handled annually had gone up to 87, 252.

However, Ms Dede could not say how many passengers the airport has been handling since it was reopened to traffic in 2006 although some estimates have put it at about 100,000 per year.

The Sh. 3 billion rehabilitation also involved extension of the runway now measuring 1,620 metres from about 800m and some improvements of the main terminal building.

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