Can julius nyerere international airport become a hub?


JF-Expert Member
Nov 22, 2007


JF-Expert Member
Joined Nov 22, 2007
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I know this might cause a furor amongst aviation zealots. Patriotism aside, let us face it. We are not yet near seeing Julius Nyerere International Airport (JNIA) become a hub. Not in the short to medium term. It is easier said than done. Last week we saw that there are certain conditions precedent to be attained for an airport to become a hub. These include the critical mass in terms of traffic movements through an airport and the seamless and effective connectivity in terms of time efficacy at the airport in question.

But equally important is the airport and ancillary infrastructure to support and sustain that particular hub. For instance, a hub airport needs enough runways to be able to handle as many aircraft ladings and take offs especially during the peak periods. That is why the planned second runway at JNIA is very important both in terms of capacity building and emergency cases. Also important are the terminal facilities that can cope with traffic volumes both passing and transiting through the hub. These include civil aviation navigational facilities, aircraft parking space, passenger and baggage handling facilities, resting lounges for transit passengers, duty free shopping space, aircraft ground handling facilities and a passenger user-friendly environment.

The ancillary infrastructure in this context include good and affordable hotel accommodation within the airport proximity, efficient road network and last but not least security. These are some of the factors which airlines take into account before taking a decision to fly to a destination. Normally an airline sends an advance team to access the situation on the ground and see if the chosen destination has adequate accommodation for crew and emergency situations in case of a technical layover for passengers. Easy accessibility to the airport also plays a crucial part in determining the suitability of the destination because traffic jams can be a menace as far as on-time-performance goes and of course security of the airport and the country in general can make or break the airport's perception.

It is quite obvious from the foregoing that JNIA is still lacking in many respects. For example, suppose there was a windfall of traffic to double from the current through put traffic of 1.5 million passengers (ball pack figure) to 3.0 million per annum (currently JKIA stands at 4.5 million). JNIA would be completely choked up! The airport would suddenly become a sight of long queues at check-in and check-out counters let alone congestion within the passenger holding areas and crammed aircraft in a parking area. All these factors militate against JNIA maturing into hub at least in the short to medium term but more particularly because of its proximity to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi, due to the following factors.

First, JKIA is already a fully fledged hub of East Africa thanks to Kenya Airways (KQ) and other foreign international airlines. At the moment JKIA is like a powerful "magnet" attracting all sorts of traffic from almost all corners around Africa through Nairobi such that it will be a monumental task for JNIA to set up an equally competing "magnet" to counter JKIA. Theoretically yes, but practically it is a very tall order indeed. Let us remember that it has taken many years of dedication and perseverance for KQ ( and Ethiopian Airlines) to be where it is especially in terms of networking Africa. Also KQ's strategic partnership with KLM Dutch Airlines was well thought out and carefully executed hence beneficial and a catalyst to KQ's JKIA hub strategy.

Second, JKIA already has a head start in terms of attracting many foreign airlines into Nairobi as a destination compared to JNIA. Because Nairobi has much superior aviation facilitation than Dar Es Salaam, many airlines have already taken the decision to set camp in Nairobi instead of Dar Es Salaam. Examples abound. Air Mauritius, Air Madagascar, Bellview Air, Air Sudan, Virgin Atlantic Airways and Saudia all have online operations into JKIA and seem contented to feed into and out of Nairobi therefore it is very unlikely that they will change their position anytime soon unless something dramatic takes place. In addition JKIA has become a distribution centre for many cargo flights into East and Central Africa. Emirates Cargo, Ethiad Cargo, Air France Cargo, MK, Maersk Cargo, Lufthansa Cargo and Martinair have flights into JKIA which makes it a beehive of activities compared to JNIA and Entebbe International Airport (EIA). Let us take cognizance of the fact that it is a herculean task to convince even some of these airlines to relocate from Nairobi to Dar Es Salaam which is only a few air kilometers away. Not in the current state of our beloved city of the haven of piece.

Third, because of its economies of scale, JKIA is a cost competitive airport to operate from compared to its neighbouring airports of JNIA and EIA. Take for example the ground handling services. Whereas JKIA has more than three ground handling companies EIA has only two while JNIA has effectively one namely Swissport Company, a virtual monopoly with very little room for maneuver when it comes to pricing . Despite being on the Indian Ocean port of Dar Es Salaam, the price of jet fuel JNIA is USD 0.756 per litre (VAT exempted) compared to USD 0. 686 per litre found at JKIA right in the hinterland of Kenya! The same applies for airport departure taxes. Nairobi stands at USD 20 per ticket for an adult person while Dar Es Salaam is at USD 30 per ticket for an adult. This is not only a turn off to foreign airlines which may wish to start operations at JNIA but also a deterrent to would be passengers because JNIA is an expensive airport to start a flight journey from compared to JKIA.

Finally, Nairobi is endowed with many International organizations. For example, the headquarters of United Nations-HABITAT is based in Nairobi. HABITAT and many others coupled with the superior economy of Kenya give Nairobi City a big boast as opposed to neighbouring cities of Dar Es Salaam and Kampala in terms of traffic generation thus making JKIA a much more active and lively airport than its competitors. Admittedly these advantages are not about to go away. At least not in the near future. But of more importance is the fact that KQ as a national airline of Kenya has remained focused on making JKIA a hub of East Africa and the Government is firmly behind this strategy.

It is from this perspective that the writer is of the strong view point that JNIA has a very long way to go before it can really catch up with JKIA let alone provide formidable competition. To achieve this monumental task the economic planners need to take a holistic or multi-disciplinary approach encompassing aviation, infrastructure, tourism and leisure sectors. This can only be realized if everyone plays his part lest JNIA will continue to play second fiddle to JKIA for a very long time.

Byase Luteke

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