International Airport breathes new life into sleepy nomadic Kenyan town

Isiolo town is strategically situated at the heart of Kenya and once the airport becomes operational ‘the heart’ of Kenya will be connected to the rest of the world.

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The airport which sits on an 800-acre land and has a 5000 square meters passenger terminal building is one of Kenya’s flagship projects as envisioned in Vision 2030.

Early this year it was declared ready for business and was set to be opened by President Uhuru Kenyatta, however, the runway pavements were being worked on due to poor drainage hence the official opening was postponed.

Lack of basic amenities like a fresh source of water near the airport in line with international standards was also a concern.

The above concerns have now been dealt with and the airport is now awaiting the greenlight from the Kenya Civil Association Authority (KCAA).

KCAA spoke to Business Insider and said; all which is left now is just picking a date to officially open the $16 million infrastructure with a capacity to handle 125,000 passengers annually.

Residents say since the project kicked off, most of them have now been connected to electricity, roads have been paved and high-rise buildings are coming up.

Furthermore, a camel-and-cow-milk processing plant plus a modern abattoir are being constructed by donors.

"Transporting the milk to Nairobi by road sometimes makes it go bad. Having an airport is the best thing we can ever have,” camel farmer Halima Hassan said.

Already investors in the agriculture, tourism and livestock sectors from surrounding counties are eying huge benefits following completion of the facility.

The Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KNCCI), miraa farmers, exporters and tourism stakeholders on Monday expressed optimism that the airport will unlock the potential of Isiolo and seven other counties including Meru and Marsabit among others.

Two local airlines, Fly 540 and Fly SAX, have already set up offices at the airport ahead of its opening for domestic flights.

According to the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), domestic flights will start immediately it is opened.

Sarova Shaba lodge manager Josphat Ngali said the facility is a blessing and would boost tourism in Isiolo, Samburu and Meru counties which are rich in wildlife.

“Tourists will for now travel from Nairobi direct to Isiolo airport to tour the northern circuit which has rare wildlife including Grévy's zebras,” he noted.

Miraa exporters also want the plant's export hub relocated from Wilson Airport in Nairobi to the new airport.

Apart from saving time and costs, the relocation will also help reduce accidents along the busy Nairobi-Meru highway, since the highly perishable commodity is usually transported by speeding vehicles.

“We will be able to export miraa directly from Isiolo airport to Mombasa, Nairobi, Jubaland, Somalia and other countries. The heavy losses we normally incur while transporting the commodity via road to Wilson Airport will reduce,” said Mr. Isiah Miriti, a miraa grower said.

Pastoralist and farmers from neighbouring counties of Meru and Laikipia are also eagerly awaiting the opening of the airport which will ease the transportation of beef and horticultural produce.

"We normally ferry live animals on lorries to neighbouring counties but the new facility will enable livestock traders to transport meat by air," KNCCI Isiolo branch chairman Hussein Jamaa said.

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