President Kenyatta offers ‘His’ VIP terminal at JKIA to process passengers


(Posted 09th August 2013)

News just emerging from the Kenyan capital Nairobi speak of President Uhuru Kenyatta granting the Kenya Airport Authority the use of the presidential pavilion and VIP area to process passengers, after a devastating fire two days ago destroyed the entire arrival complex of East Africa’s most important airport.

This gesture will go a long way to make the processing of passengers easier, since domestic flight handling of arriving and departing passengers has been shifted to the cargo terminal for the time being while international arrivals now use the domestic Unit 3 to go through immigration and clear customs after receiving their baggage.

Most airlines have now resumed international flights, and especially national airline Kenya Airways is enroute to restore a full flight programme by tomorrow, after succeeding to bring stranded passengers back to Nairobi and fly them to their final destinations. All of KQ’s domestic services have been restored however, with flights to and from Mombasa, Malindi, Eldoret and Kisumu back on schedule, while regional flights were yesterday resuming at a part schedule before going full schedule again today, 09th August.

Qatar Airways also confirmed via Twitter that their flight on 09th August will operate as scheduled and other airlines too have used social media communications to reassure their clients.

Meanwhile though are details emerging of alleged lapses in fire safety at JKIA with specific allegations being directed against the Kenya Airport Authority, that past fire drills identified shortcomings such as the lack of sprinklers and the lack of fire resistant materials for office partitions on the upper floors of the Arrival Terminal, where the fire two days ago spread rapidly. Whatever was listed as missing or outdated though in reviews of such drills, according to one single source at the airport, was at no time implemented and became a recurring observation kept on file for future action.

The airport was built in the 1970’s and opened in 1978 by then president Jomo Kenyatta, the late father of the current president, but has seen little in terms of major upgrades or refurbishments vis a vis latest technologies.

A brand new Terminal Four is under construction but delayed in its opening and a new mega terminal and second runway planned some distance away from the present complex, aimed to expand capacity at least threefold over present numbers. While the airport, which took over from the old Embakasi airport, was to cater for some 2.5 million passengers at most, today’s throughput is in the 7 million + region and KAA clearly had found it difficult, or so it seems, to schedule major upgrades and refurbishments, especially by installing sprinkler systems in parts of the terminal. This however is apparently not for lack of money as every departing international passenger has to pay 40 US Dollars in departure taxes but attributed to other logistical and managerial issues within KAA’s hierarchy.

A full scale investigation is now underway by Kenya’s police, several intelligence agencies and special investigators, some reportedly from abroad, to identify the location where the fire started and the cause of the rapid spread of the blaze which consumed the entire building in hours.

Official sources in Nairobi have, as has this correspondent, urged to refrain from speculating what could have caused the blaze, but already quietly dismissed media suggestions of sabotage or, as seen elsewhere, terrorism as farfetched and lacking any foundation in facts so far at hand. Time will tell the what, where and perhaps the why of it all but until then, watch this space.

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