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Africa

Welinder: "Fire at Nairobi airport has a damaging impact on Kenya"

International flights at Nairobi's main airport resumed on Thursday, one day after a massive fire damaged a huge part of the airport forcing it to close down.

DW: Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was closed on Wednesday (07.08.2013), passengers were evacuated and incoming flights were diverted. What do you think caused the fire?

Lars Welinder: At the moment we don't know. We only know that there was a fire that started and took hold very dramatically, but we don't know what caused it. We can only speculate and we have no opinion on that.

On arrival at the airport in Nairobi, one doesn't get the impression that it is the most modern of buildings?

You are right, it is not the most modern airport. And always when you deal with older buildings you have problems with both the materials and its design. Tidiness can also be an issue. If the faciltiies aren't cleaned properly, a fire can take hold and spread more quickly.

Does Jomo Kenyatta International Airport comply with all international safety standards?

Yes, the airport is used by a large number of international airlines and all of them would, as matter of course, check if to see it was acceptable for them - for a variety of reasons including safety and security. And the airport serves around 50 destinations in more than 20 countries across five continents. So it's certainly an airport that would have been accepted by authorities and airlines around the world.

A couple of days ago, there was incident involving fuel shortage in which all inbound flights had to be diverted to other airfields. Now we have this incident with the fire. Could this be a case of bad management?

I think it is very difficult to have an opinion about that at this stage. But as with any big incident like this where you have a development which is so rapid, you can only say that it should not have happened. And as it did happen there must be some failure in the structure of management. But it can be difficult to simplify things in that way.

You mentioned before the importance of Jomo Kenyatta International Airiport in Africa. Compared  to Addis Ababa and Johannesburg, how important is Nairobi?

Nairobi is very important. One would say that its one among five or six airports in Africa that are key. It is key to Kenya's own industries such as the flower industry, it is key to tourism, but it is also key as a hub to neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Zambia, Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. These all rely on feeder traffic from Nairobi. There is no ground infrastructure in Africa and so air transport is key for both moving people in and out of Africa but also within Africa, equipment and so on.

Do you think the incident will have an impact on the development of future incoming flight numbers?

Nairobi is a key airport. It is a major hub for East Africa and Central Africa. Its closure for any length of time will have massive effects not only on Kenya but in eastern and central Africa as well. I think we are dealing with a short term, immediate effect that would be very damaging, but it won't be medium or long term.

Lars Welinder is the director of the London-based aviation consultation company, Mango Aviation partners.

Interview: Adrian Kriesch

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