For many UAE residents eager to hop on a plane to Kenya to catch the tail end of the great migration during their Eid holidays may have to put their travel plans on hold temporarily as the Nairobi international airport has been closed after a major fire gutted parts of the airport on Wednesday.
Emirates and Kenya Airways, which codeshares with Abu Dhabi’s Eithad Airways, have cancelled flights between Dubai and Nairobi in wake of the massive fire.
The blaze has reportedly destroyed most of the arrivals hall of the country’s main airport, which is a hub for all major air traffic across East Africa.
Most of the inbound flights have been rerouted or cancelled.
Emirates has posted this statement for its cancelled flights, which says: “The following options are available to passengers and Skywards members already ticketed to travel to/from Nairobi and who now wish to alter their travel plans due to the cancellation of EK719/720 following a major fire at NBO Airport, which has resulted in the closure of the airport:
“As this situation is beyond the control of Emirates, liability towards our passengers is limited in accordance with Emirates’ Conditions of Carriage for Passengers and Baggage. Additionally, passengers are advised to contact their travel insurers.”
Meanwhile, Titus Naikuni, Group Managing Director and CEO, Kenya Airways, issued a statement, which said: “Regarding the fire at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) we would like to inform all our customers and stakeholders that all our incoming and outgoing passengers are safe.
“There will be certain disruptions on our operations and as soon as we get clarity on the extent of the damage we will advise everyone on what we intend to do.
“Flights coming into JKIA have been diverted to Mombasa. Transiting passengers have been taken to hotels.
“Other flights from Nairobi have been temporarily suspended. Further updates on the situation will be provided in an hour. Please bear with us as we understand the situation more clearly.”
Meanwhile, no injuries have been reported at the scene of the blaze.
A massive fire shut down Nairobi's international airport on Wednesday with flights diverted to regional cities as firefighters battled to put out the blaze in east Africa's biggest transport hub.
Dramatic plumes of black smoke billowed out of the main arrivals terminal, but by 9.00 am (0600GMT), some four hours after the blaze broke out, firefighters had succeeded in stemming the raging flames.
"There is a serious fire at JKIA (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport), but we are doing everything possible to avert a crisis," said senior interior ministry official Mutea Iringo.
The cause of the fire is not yet known.
Tens of thousands of passengers are expected to be affected by the closure of the airport, while regional airports have limited capacity and will likely struggle to handle all the travellers unable to land in Nairobi.
The interior ministry was forced to issue public appeals for Nairobi's notoriously congested traffic to give way to trucks ferrying water to the airport after firefighters tackling the blaze ran "dangerously low on water".
"Apart from emergency landings, all flights into and out of JKIA have been cancelled ... (the) airport has been shut down," added Iringo.
The Kenya National Disaster Operation Centre, in an update 0600 GMT, said the airport "remains closed indefinitely", but that the fire had been "contained".
The blaze comes two days after aircraft were delayed for several hours after the failure of a fuel hydrant needed for refuelling the planes.
It also comes 15 years to the day of attacks on the US embassy in Nairobi and in Dar Es Salaam in neighbouring Tanzania, killing more than 224 people.
The United States has ordered two dozen of its embassies closed in the Middle East and some African countries because of fears of an Al Qaeda attack, but not Kenya.
There was no suggestion the Nairobi fire was linked to any attack.
An AFP photographer at the airport reported clouds of black smoke spewing out of the main arrivals and departures terminal, with dozens of police and fire trucks at the scene.
President Uhuru Kenyatta, whose father Jomo Kenyatta -- Kenya's first president -- the airport is named after, visited the still burning building along with his top security chiefs to assess the damage caused by the "huge inferno", the interior ministry added.
Kenya's Airport Authority said that no casualties have been reported.
Iringo said the fire was "massive", adding that the arrivals and immigration sections were "totally damaged".
Flights were being diverted to other airports, including the port city of Mombasa, the interior ministry added.
The airport -- which hosts both international and domestic flights -- serves as a regional hub for east Africa, with many long-distance international flights landing there to connect to countries across the region.
Regional aviation sources said some seven million passengers use JKIA annually. The airport offers direct connections to Europe, the Middle East, the Far East and other African cities.
August is one of Kenya's busiest months for tourism, a key industry for the country, as foreign travellers fly in to see its wildlife and white sand beaches on its Indian Ocean coast.
All roads around the airport had been closed except to emergency traffic.
"This is a major crisis," said senior transport ministry official Michael Kamau.
Cargo, domestic flights to resume later Wednesday
Cargo and domestic flights out of Nairobi's fire-gutted airport will resume later on Wednesday, but with no timeframe yet for when international passenger flights will restart, the presidential spokesman said.
"We want to assure all investors and our international travellers that everything is being done, and that cargo and domestic flights will resume this afternoon," State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu told reporters. "
Resumption of international flights will be communicated later," he added.
Domestic terminal to be readied for international flights
Kenya will on Thursday begin preparing its small domestic terminal at the capital's fire-ravaged main airport for handling international flights, using tents to create extra space, a government minister said on Wednesday.
"From tomorrow we will be preparing this unit ... as an international terminal for departures and arrivals," Michael Kamau, cabinet secretary for transport told reporters. "We started pitching tents on the airside for handling departing passengers."
First overseas flights to arrive on Thursday
Kenya Airways said on Wednesday its first overseas flights to land at the Kenyan capital's fire-damaged airport would arrive as scheduled early on Thursday.
"Flights from London and from Bangkok will arrive in Nairobi tomorrow morning as scheduled, and will be processed through the domestic terminal," the national flag carrier said in a statement.