As people in some parts of the country just dream about having an airport facility nearby, Karonga is one of the lucky districts to have one in the country. But, as FESTON MALEKEZO writes, the airplanes are nowhere to be seen.
It is not uncommon to see crows flying up and down at Karonga Airport.
In the absence of traffic, they have taken all the grounds to themselves.
This is because, for about three years now, Karonga Airport has had no commercial flights landing at the port to entry, according to officials.
The airport used to be busy, receiving traffic two to three times a week, when Paladin Africa was managing Kayerekera Uranium Mine in Karonga District.
However, the miners exited in 2014.
Senior Flight Information Officer, who is also Karonga International Airport Officer-in-charge, Clifton Champhale, said, when Transport Minister Jacob Hara visited the airport, that the last plane to land at the airport was early this month— but, then, it was business aircraft for Illovo Sugar Malawi.
“However, lack of traffic at the international airport does not mean that the 23 members working at the airport are freer. What makes them [members] work is not only just the landing of aircraft but also the filing of reports and constant communication with colleagues in other airports,” Champhale said.
But the official acknowledged that it would be better if the facility was getting traffic on a regular basis.
“We expect the airport to be busy when we have scheduled flights mainly because, unlike airports like Kamuzu International, [where] there are scheduled flights, including those of Malawi Airlines, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Kenya Airways and other private flights, here, we do not have scheduled flights,. Airplanes come rarely and randomly. The government should make sure that it operationalises the airport, which has facilities of international standard as compared to Mzuzu Airport. The problem is simply the geographical position. If tourism were vibrant here, this airport would be frequented also,” Champhale said.
One of the recent memorable occasions at the facility pertains to the landing of an airplane in June 2018, when Nyasa Big Bullets landed there using a Malawi Defence Force chattered sky van ahead of a TNM Super League clash with Karonga United.
Meanwhile, vandals are wreaking havoc at Karonga Airport.
“People are vandalising airport facilities and encroaching on airport land. This is happening despite that every household was duly compensated to move away from the protected land,” he lamented.
Hara said there is a need to fully operationalise the airport which, he said, has the potential to boost trade and tourism in the region.
“We need to quickly and fully operationalise Karonga Airport as we are looking for every possibility to boost trade and bring forex into Malawi,” Hara said.
Karonga Airport is probably the biggest airfield in the Northern Region, as it has international status, unlike Mzuzu Airport and Likoma.