After lean economic times caused by ethnic clashes in the early 2000s, coupled with banditry and near debilitating drought, Isiolo Town is readying for take off.
And with the opening of Isiolo International Airport, the fifth of its kind in Kenya, things are looking up for the region.
The airport’s 1.4km runway which extends to Meru County has witnessed renewed activity starting last week after the inaugural commercial flight by budget carrier Fly Sax.
The facility could also be used to export cut flowers, beef, milk and miraa.
The Sh1.7 billion airport is a key plank of the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project.
Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) chief executive Jonny Andersen said aviation has not been left out of the picture as Isiolo’s connectivity to the world is a strategic enabler of growth.
The agency’s main agenda for the airport, he says, remains improvement of its safety and security while establishing more revenue streams.
Mr Anderson said investment opportunities and development of trade and tourism within Isiolo were a sure bet for improved revenue and were likely to push up passenger numbers.
“Isiolo has become an engine of economic growth. It’s already making an impact on development within the region.
“Our policy is to promote growth of the aviation industry and its related commercial activities. Isiolo is already making an economic impact in the region. By venturing into this untried market, Sax has succeeded and I can only see a brighter future for this airport,” Mr Andersen says.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority deputy director general Tom Ogenche said there was a possibility of relocating the export of miraa to Isiolo Airport from Wilson Airport in Nairobi, where it is flown to neighbouring countries.
The neighbouring Meru County, where the crop is mostly grown, largely depends on road transport to ferry the perishable commodity to Wilson Airport for export mainly to Somalia and other local markets.
Demystify air transport
“We hope to open this place to bigger cargo aircraft which can lift miraa directly abroad instead of via Wilson Airport. The local leadership should promote air transport and help demystify it,” Mr Ogenche said.
Fly Sax director George Kivindyo said the airline anticipates brisk business on the route.
He, however, added that ordinarily when an airline takes up a new route, it plunges into a loss-making phase that must be sustained by a solid budget as it establishes itself.
“We are the pioneers of this airport and route. We would like some incentives from KAA so that flying keeps on appealing to regulars and first-timers. When you open a route, you don’t make money for the first six months,” he said.
Sax chief executive Don Smith said they would focus on routes with good returns on investments.
Mr Smith is eyeing more networks in northern Kenya as part of an expansion programme into emerging markets.
“We will encourage more proposals to link this route with, especially, Marsabit, Moyale and Samburu, which are popular destinations around here. There is also huge potential for tourism, which benefits the business community and leisure travellers. I am ready to provide an aircraft for investors meeting here to discuss these issues,” he said.
The Isiolo airport passenger terminal building has a throughout capacity of 125,000 passengers annually, with a floor area of 5,000 square metres. The passenger terminal car park can accommodate 200 cars.
Investors say that with a forward-looking management, aggressive marketing and clear commercial plans driven by private-sector discipline, the airport can become an important hub for central and northern Kenya, and even eastern Africa.
Amenities at the airport terminal building include nine check-in counters (domestic and international), a VIP lounge, restaurants, duty free shops, banking facilities, forex bureaus, airline front offices and shops.
Already, there are plans to extend the runaway to four kilometres to accommodate and ease landing of bigger aircraft.