Low cost airline Jambojet has called for the expansion of Lamu and Ukunda airports to be fast-tracked saying delays are hurting its business. Jambojet CEO Willem Hondius says the airline is finding it hard to cope with rising traffic especially on the Ukunda route as a result of slow pace of expansion of Ukunda Airport owing to procurement delays. “We have established that delay in awarding the tenders is the reason behind stalling of the construction work at the airport. We have been in touch with Kenya Airports Authority over the matter but with little progress,” said Hondius.
He was speaking at the official opening of Jambojet office in Diani, Ukunda today (Thursday). Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya who was the chief guest at the ceremony pledged to take up the matter with KAA. “We will discuss the issue with KAA as we continuously push to have the necessary infrastructure in place to support tourism in Kwale County,” said the governor.
Mvurya said the move by Jambojet to open an office in Diani, Ukunda will spur tourism in the county. “This (opening of Jambojet office) comes at the right time when Diani Beach has been voted best in Africa and the UK government has lifted the travel advisory,” said the governor.
Jambojet launched flights to Ukunda in March this year together with Lamu and Malindi. It flies to seven destinations. The others are Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret. According to Hondius, traffic on the Ukunda route had grown three-fold over the last year as a result of introduction of cheaper fares by Jambojet.
Available data shows that the number of passengers flying on the Ukunda route nearly trebled in May compared to May last year. This can only be attributed to the entry of Jambojet on this busy route,” explained the CEO.
As a result of having a short turning point at the Ukunda airstrip, he added, Jambojet is forced to carry one-third less passengers on its Bombardier aircraft. Extension of the turning point was meant as a stop-gap measure pending expansion of the runway from the current 1.1 kilometers to 1.6 kilometers. The Ukunda route is critical to Jambojet expansion strategy as it serves Kenya’s Diani and South Coast region, one of the country’s major tourism hubs.
Besides tourism, Kwale County also has rich potential in mining and agriculture. With investors flocking the county in search of opportunities, Jambojet hopes to tap the growing demand for affordable and reliable air travel to grow passenger numbers. Delayed runway expansion at Manda Airstrip in Lamu has also constrained Jambojet growth on that route despite traffic nearly doubling. “Construction of the two-kilometer runway started way back in 2011 and is yet to be completed. This is holding us back from increasing our capacity on the route,” said Hondius.
Since launching operations in April 2014, Jambojet has flown over 500,000 passengers to various destinations in Kenya.