One Day After Fire, Kenya’s Airport Ready to Handle International Arrivals
Tourists from Italy arrive aboard a direct flight at Moi International Airport in Kenya's coastal town of Mombasa August 8, 2013. Joseph Okanga / Reuters
Kenya moved fast to avoid blocking air traffic and the vital import of tourists for even one day. The country’s still nascent tourism industry could be hampered by any sign of instability.
Kenya will resume all international flights at its main airport from midnight after a fire engulfed the arrivals terminals yesterday and shut operations at sub- Saharan Africa’s fourth-busiest air-transport hub.
“We are now going to have international departures and from midnight today we are opening up the airport for full operations,” Transport Secretary Michael Kamau told reporters in remarks broadcast by KTN, a private television company.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capital, Nairobi, partially reopened late yesterday. Flights from cities including Bangkok landed in Nairobi since this morning after cargo planes and passenger flights bound for domestic and regional locations resumed yesterday.
The fire that burned for almost five hours razed the arrivals terminal of the main airport, a crucial link for exports of products including flowers and horticulture and handling tourists, all of which are among the biggest sources of foreign currency for Kenya.
Another “small” fire that broke out this morning at the arrivals terminal was extinguished within 13 minutes, the ministry said.
Investigators are trying to determine the cause of the blaze and “there is no reason to speculate” before the official findings are released, Kamau said.
The Kenya Airports Authority posted a photo on its Twitter account of a make-shift, temporary international arrivals terminal in enclosed tents set up on a pavement. Footage aired by KTN showed long lines of travelers waiting at outdoor kiosks to check in for their flights.
U.S. President Barack Obama called his Kenyan counterpart, Uhuru Kenyatta, yesterday to offer support after the blaze, according to an e-mailed statement. Obama also expressed his condolences on the 15th anniversary of twin coordinated attacks by al-Qaeda on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in which more than 224 people died. The World Bank and African Development Bank have made “immediate offers” of financing to help rehabilitate the Nairobi airport, Kamau said.
Kenya Airways Ltd., the country’s flagship carrier and the third-biggest airline in sub-Saharan Africa by passengers, is operating at about 35 percent of its capacity, he said. The company’s shares fell for a second day, declining 0.5 percent to 9.45 shillings.
Kenya is the world’s largest black-tea exporter and it supplies one third of the flowers traded in Europe. The country’s wild game parks and Indian Ocean beaches draw almost 2 million tourists a year from countries including the U.K., the U.S., India and China.
“Horticulture exports fly out of the cargo section which hasn’t been affected so there’s no disruption in terms of horticulture and flowers getting to the market,” Henry Kirimania, head of treasury at I&M Bank Ltd., said by phone from Nairobi. “We’re speaking to tour operators and hotels. It may be a little early, but so far bookings are still OK and there are no cancellations.”
The currency of East Africa’s largest economy was unchanged at 87.45 per dollar, after weakening 0.2 percent yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Construction of a fourth terminal at the airport, named after Kenya’s first president and which will have the capacity to handle 9 million passengers a year, has been delayed by more than a year. It’s expected to be completed by March, Kamau said. The airport is also planning a second runway.
With assistance from Paul Richardson in Nairobi. Editors: Paul Richardson and Karl Maier.
To contact the reporter on this story: Sarah McGregor in Nairobi at firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at email@example.com.