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JKIA faces losses as travellers choose “comfortable” airports

Early assessments of the financial losses from last Wednesday’s fire at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) have begun to emerge. Though early losses were caused by disruptions to flight schedules when the airport was closed, losses are likely to mount in the long-term as passengers avoid Nairobi, choosing connections through more “comfortable” airports.

In other words, Nairobi’s future as a regional aviation hub faces uncertainty.

Kenya Airways has been the first to quantify its losses. The airline’s CEO Titus Naikuni said yesterday that the carrier has to date lost Kenya Shillings 348 million (US$4 million) in revenue as a result of the fire that engulfed JKIA on Wednesday.

That’s a lot of money for an airline that is only just recovering from huge losses in 2012.

Flight schedules have begun to stabilize after the airport reopened Wednesday evening but there are still lots of delays and a huge backlog of passengers and cargo. Foreign airlines have also faced disruptions in their flight schedules and a backlog in passengers which they are trying to clear. Local and international cargo carriers are in the same boat.

On social media, airline passengers have been sharing their not-too-pleasant experiences while waiting for flights in Nairobi. There have been complaints about inadequate communication and of having to wait 6 hours for flights. There have also been reports of lost luggage and even pilfering.

Indeed, having to sit in a tent for 6 hours is not an experience to look forward to.

What does this mean? In the medium term, international travellers connecting to other African countries are likely to seek alternatives. Yes, it’s a tough thing to say, but is only natural to expect travellers to seek a better experience. Addis Ababa, Kigali, Johannesburg and Cairo airports will no doubt be the biggest beneficiaries of JKIA’s misfortunes.

Further afield, Istanbul and Persian Gulf airports are likely to benefit from travellers choosing not to connect through Nairobi.

All this is bad news for Kenya Airways which uses Nairobi as a hub linking its African destinations with Europe, Middle East and Asia. There have been suggestions that Kenya Airways shift some of its African connections to the Moi International Airport, Mombasa, while operating an air shuttle service between Mombasa and Nairobi for travellers to and from Nairobi.

The future of JKIA’s position as a regional air travel hub depends on the contingency measures to be implemented by the Kenyan government. President Uhuru Kenyatta has announced that a temporary facility will be put up in coming weeks. The temporary terminal will have a capacity of 2.5 million passengers annually, falling far short of the airport’s current demand of 6 million passengers a year. However, Terminal 4 – whose construction began long before the fire – is expected to be ready for use at the end of 2013.

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