Passenger traffic at Kenya’s airports grew by eight per cent between 2012 and 2016 as the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport continued to play a key role as a regional hub, latest industry data shows.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority yesterday said passenger movement rose to 9.4 million from 8.8million in the last for years, buoyed by an increase in the number of aircrafts movement which increased by five per cent to 322,504 from 306,366.

The amount of cargo handled in airports, however, dropped to 255,000 tonnes in 2016 from 309,000 tonnes in 2012.

The drop was caused by restrictive regulations in the European countries on the quality of products reaching their markets, the KCAA said.

This is under the EU food safety standards, traceability and other regulations, blamed for being a trade barrier to developing countries’ exports.

KCAA director general Gilbert Kibe, however, said the sector is expected to continue growing at a rate of five per cent up to 2030.

“Previously the region safety record was very poor but due to stringent rules and stiffer penalties our air space is very space,” Kibe said, during the ongoing Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa airspace integration workshop in Naivasha, attended by 13 of the 19 member states.

Kibe said there is room for growth in the sector, despite the various challenges facing industry players among them high air-ticket prices.

He attributed the high charges to lack of competition among member states “with dominant players taking advantage of the situation”.

“This meeting is meant to develop an air traffic management system among Comesa member states and this will make our airspace safer,” he said.

Comesa director for infrastructure and logistics Abu Sufian Dafalla, said members had agreed to form a seamless airspace, intended to boost to intra-African trade and sustainable economic development in the trade bloc and the continent.

“We have very few low cost airlines in the region and there is need to open up the market for more competition and better services,” he said.

Dafalla said the African Development Bank was sponsoring the airspace integration project at $10m (Sh1 billion), which will enable countries share data and exchange information.

Abu said plans to establish East and Southern African air agency were at an advanced stage with a view of enhancing efficiency and safety.

Director of air navigation services Shadrack Wesechere identified sovereignty as the major challenge in making the Comesa region obtain seamless airspace.

“Some countries are worried by the seamless airspace project and we are working round the clock to convince them that this is the way to go,” he said.