Loki Airport gathering dust as traffic shifts to Jomo Kenyatta International
(eTN) - Once the main gateway into occupied and wartorn South Sudan, a key supply base for the United Nations aid organizations and a multitude of NGOs, Lokichoggio has, since the signing of the Compr
(eTN) – Once the main gateway into occupied and wartorn South Sudan, a key supply base for the United Nations aid organizations and a multitude of NGOs, Lokichoggio has, since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005, seen a remarkable reverse in fortunes. During the early years of the CPA, when no one could be certain of the Khartoum regime’s bag of tricks up their sleeves, Loki as the town is fondly known among the aviation fraternity in Kenya, was still doing brisk business with supplies being trucked in from Mombasa’s port or from Nairobi’s industries geared to supplying the South Sudan territory. At the very latest from 2008 onwards it became clear that the “boom town status” was getting brittle at the edges and progressively being eroded in favor of direct flights from Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to Juba’s fledgling airport.
Private airlines like East African Safari Air Express, since then taken over by Fly 540 and Jetlink, were the first to enter into agreements with the South and the regime’s civil aviation body in Khartoum to get traffic rights, then followed by others like Delta Connection, making the South’s links with the outside world via Nairobi possible, not, of course, trusting the regime’s surveillance methods in Khartoum, when having to travel via that airport.
When Air Uganda commenced flights to Juba, Ethiopian began flights from Addis and even more so since Kenya Airways has gone on the route to Juba, the significance of Loki has continued to dwindle with passenger and flight numbers dropping as much as by half from year to year, rendering many of the facilities put up to make Loki operationally fit for cargo and passenger flights in and out of the South, now to a status of near mothballing.
Said a Wilson Airport-based regular aviation source from Nairobi: “Before the CPA and even the first years after the peace agreement was signed, Loki was the place to be. Regular air operators were joined by opportunistic start-ups and the number of lesser and more serious accidents are witness to the ‘Wild West’ mentality, which existed back then. Pilots were aware of the risk they took, flying into Sudanese airspace without clearance from Air Traffic Control (ATC) in Khartoum, but as those clearances would have been denied anyway, the regime did not want even humanitarian supplies to reach the Southern people. So pilots knew there was always a risk to be shot at from the ground where regime troops were based and destinations often were rough bush strips, put up sometimes only a day before going in.
“SPLA (Sudan People’s Liberation Army)-controlled areas were giving clearances to fly in medical equipment, drugs, doctors, or evacuate injured people, and, of course, other supplies like food, too, went in through Loki. Now things have changed dramatically and can no longer be described as busy. Some airlines have closed their offices in Loki, and guest houses and hotels lack business. But my prediction is that Kenya will keep Loki intact because one never knows when it might be needed again, it is only a few miles from the common border and while the use is changing, it is of strategic importance to Kenya.”
One thing though is sure, that Kenya aviation will always have a chapter about Loki in its history books and Loki is forever linked with the struggle of the Southern Sudanese people against racism, slavery, and oppression, which ended in their victory and independence from the regime in Khartoum on July 9 of this year. So whatever is in store for Loki from here on, its place in history will have been assured.