By Serah Makondetsa:
The main runway at Chileka International Airport will be closed from April 24 to July 24, a development which will affect commercial flights into Blantyre.
Ministry of Transport and Public Works spokesperson James Chakwera confirmed the development yesterday in an interview.
Chakwera said the runway will be closed for two months to pave the way for rehabilitation works.
“I can confirm that the main runway at Chileka International Airport will be closed from 24th April because we are embarking on a project to rehabilitate the runway. Chileka has two runways and the main one is the one that needs rehabilitation. Only the auxiliary runway will be operational and that can only take small aircrafts,” he said.
He said the closure will affect big aircrafts and temporarily they will be diverted to Kamuzu International Airport (KIA) in Lilongwe.
“The ones to be affected are aircrafts operated by Malawian Airlines, Kenyan Airlines and South African Airways. All those will be affected because they cannot use the auxiliary runway, so, by the time we are closed, their flights will be directed to Lilongwe at Kamuzu International Airport,” he said.
Chakwera admitted that business will be affected because of the closure.
“Business will be affected. Especially if someone has to travel from Blantyre to Lilongwe, it will definitely affect business. For the airlines, some of them were operating in Lilongwe and maybe they will have to operate twice but, all in all, business will be affected for sure.
“Rehabilitation works that have been going on at Chileka will be completed by end of June and the extension of terminal at KIA is almost complete and we are actually talking of the inauguration ceremony which is scheduled in May,” he said.
Chancellor College-based economist Ben Kalua described the situation as bitter sweet arguing the rehabilitation was long overdue saying the closure will affect various businesses.
“The thing is there is a lot on that infrastructure that has to be taken into consideration. Recently, we saw that one of the airlines suspended its flights there because of issues like lights. So, there is need for rehabilitation of that whole infrastructure.
“In Malawi, we are already poor in as far as such infrastructure is concerned, so there is need to be up to date to at least boost business through the tourism sector,” he said.
In January, South African Airways suspended flights to Chileka Airport due to serious safety risks at the airport.
The closure followed non-compliance findings made by South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) after its annual inspection at the Malawian airport.
The issues included the airport’s perimeter fence which was vandalised and fell short of set international standards.
SCAA also established that Chileka has no dependable fire engine and ambulance due to a lack of maintenance.
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