The construction of a new transit shed at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) is ongoing in a plan aimed at expanding the facility's cargo handling capacity by more than 10 per cent.
The expansion will take the number of transit sheds to six. The move has been triggered by the rising air cargo competition from Ethiopia and South Africa, as well as the rise in exports, especially horticulture.
A report released last week by the Fresh Produce Consortium of Kenya (FPC Kenya) shows that the sales of fresh produce increased to reach Sh115 billion in 2017, from Sh101.5 billion in 2016, with flower exports contributing Sh82.24 billion, up from Sh70.83 billion the previous year.
In a bid to handle the increased tonnage of horticulture, which is one the country's major exports, the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) is enhancing its exit and import handling capacity by 10,000sqm.
“We have five transit sheds at the airport which deal with the facilitation of cargo; imports and exports at the JKIA. The additional facility, called Mitchell Cott, should be ready by September thus making them six,” said Evans Michoma, KAA Commercial Cargo Manager.
“This will add the capacity of our uplifts for cargo facilitation at the airport.”
Currently, the handling capacity at the airport is a million tonnes annually. This is expected to rise by 150,000 tonnes a year once the new transit shed is completed.
In a week, one transit shed can handle about 800 to one million kilos in exports, according to Michoma.
The Mitchel Cotts transit shed will include cold rooms, used for the preservation of flowers and vegetables, an export area to receive and prepare cargo for loading aboard an aeroplane, an import area and a dry cargo area.
Besides the increase in horticulture imports, Nairobi being a regional hub handles cargo for transit from different regions.
Due to its strategic geographical location, JKIA is a key nerve from where cargo airlines fly to a large network of destinations such as Abidjan (Ivory Coast), Accra (Ghana), Free town (Sierra Leone), Lilongwe (Malawi), Lubumbashi (DRC), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania), Lusaka (Zambia) and Entebbe (Uganda) among others.
The expansion of the transit sheds at the facility will help improve efficiency of cargo operations.
“We handle quite a number of transit cargos through JKIA, going to the southern part of Africa such as Zambia, Zimbabwe and also West Africa. We have cargo coming from Europe, the Middle East to Nairobi for export to different destinations,” said Michoma.
Another factor that led to the construction of a new transit shed is the competition from South Africa and Ethiopia airports which could challenge Nairobi status as a regional cargo hub.
In 2017, the South African airport management company, Airports Company South Africa (ACSA) announced plans to upgrade its airport facilities to cater for cargo which was under pressure especially at O. R. Tambo International Airport near Johannesburg.
ACSA also plans to expand warehouse space to meet demand for pharmaceutical, automotive and perishable goods as well as develop capacity through infrastructure improvements. In 2016, it handled 350,500 tonnes of cargo, according to the ACSA.
This could see cargo airlines connecting to South African countries via Nairobi opt for Johannesburg for easier connection.
Ethiopia last year unveiled a new a 150,000square metres cargo terminal at the Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa.
It has a handling capacity of 600,000 tonnes annually, a dry cargo warehouse, cold chain storage for perishable goods such as fruits, flowers and vegetables and an apron area that can accommodate five additional freight aeroplanes, among other facilities.
“At JKIA, we are facing stiff competition from South Africa but within the East Africa region, we are doing quite well as far as cargo is concerned. However with Ethiopia, which is building new facilities for its cargo area at Bole Airport, and a bigger airport in general, which is expected to be completed this year, we are also expecting competition from the region,” said Michoma.