It was pomp and colour as a Skyward Express Company airplane touched down on the runway of the newly refurbished Lichota Airstrip to officially inaugurate the first large Private Passenger carrier to and from Migori County. The date was Wednesday, September 13, 2023, minutes past 11 a.m. when the twin Air Bird descended on the beautifully re-carpeted airstrip to the chagrin of the multitude of Migori people who joyously trekked, bussed, cycled, drove in cars, and rode on motorcycles to witness the launch of the first-ever mode of transport for the common members of the public. On board the plane were the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s wife, Ida Odinga, and the Cabinet Secretary in charge of the Transport and Public Works portfolio, Mr. Kipchumba Murkomen, among other dignitaries who arrived in the region to grace the occasion of blessing the first landing and takeoff of the commercial private passenger air services within the region. On the ground to receive the plane and the dignitaries was Migori Governor Dr. Ochillo Ayacko, who was backed by a host of county leaders amid belts of soothing songs and performances from the Kuria traditional dancers and Luo Ohangla maestro artists. Mrs. Odinga, who was the chief guest at the occasion, confessed upon alighting from the plane that she enjoyed a smooth air cruise from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport and a soft landing on a runway that she never in her lifetime dreamt to meet at any of the country’s rural set up. Backed by the chairperson of Kenya Airport Authority (KAA), Mr. Caleb Kositany, Ida immediately challenged the local business community, farmers, and the lowliest person in Migori to strive to have a taste of the company’s services on air between Migori and Nairobi to get the value for their money and realise the need to discard the treacherous and painful journey they often make on the road by buses and cars to and from Nairobi. A spot check by KNA has established that the airstrip has attracted over seven private planes, mostly tourists travelling to the Maasai Mara and Serengeti in Tanzania. A part from planes from Skyward Express Company, Air Kenya and Safarilink are some of the commercial air companies that will make trips to and from the airstrip, with Skyward having scheduled three flights per week to give more passengers opportunities to travel. CS Murkomen could not hide his pleasure that during his reign at the helm of the transport ministry, he was able to charter a comfortable private commercial air transport to and from a rural stature and challenged the Migori County government to avail more land at the airstrip to allow the government to expand the runway for bigger airplanes. Currently, Lichota Airstrip boasts a runway of 1.2 kilometres capable of accommodating only 50- and below-seater planes. ‘But our target is to expand the runway to 1.7 kms and above to allow the now modernised facility to handle up to 100-seat planes and enable it to serve more passengers,’ said Murkomen. Modernised at a cost of over Sh250 million in phase one, the air strip, which is strategically perched outside Migori town, still requires Sh200 million to put up a terminal that, upon its completion, will handle up to 350,000 passengers per year, according to KAA Chairman Mr. Kositany. The industries that will benefit most from the commercial planes will be the tourism and hospitality industries, which are fast-growing in the region. Located only 5 kilometres from Migori town and 25 kilometres from the Isebania border town, the airport is expected to be ideal for the growth of Migori and important commercial links with neighbouring countries. The chairman of the local Association of Hotel Keepers and Caterers, Paul Otieno, and his counterpart in the Kenya Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Peter Orimbo, say the airstrip, when fully utilised, will ease tourists’ movement to the local Ruma Park, Thim Lich Ohinga historical site, Serengeti national park, and the expansive Maasai Mara, in Kenya and Tanzania. The two spoke immediately after the official launch of the airstrip for commercial planes and stressed that the best way to help open up the Western tourist circuit would be the presence of adequate and reliable air transport, which the Lichota airstrip comes in handy to assure. It portends a sure bet for reducing the hitherto constant delays encountered by tourists to reach their destinations after using road transport all the way from Nairobi. ‘However, we are still concerned with the conditions of the roads used by tourists to access the parks and the existing historical sites in the region,’ stressed Mr. Otieno. In the past, Orimbo adds, the size and condition of the Lichota Airstrip did not measure up to the growth that the South Nyanza tourist circuit had picked up. Governor Ayacko noted that now tourists and passengers landing and taking off at the Lichota Airstrip would no longer experience the pangs of heat as they waited to board or move from the facility, as they had before it was refurbished. He called upon all the elected leaders from the region to promote the airlines and the airstrip by always using their services.
Source: Kenya News Agency