Monday, November 19, 2012

Tourists at the Serengeti National Park. Tanzania plans to build an airport near the park Picture: File
Tourists at the Serengeti National Park. Tanzania plans to build an airport near the park

The protracted battle over construction of an international airport next to Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, pitting the government against environmentalists, is nearly over — and the government seems to have carried the day.

Plans for the construction of the $350 million facility, expected to start early next year, are complete, and the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority has approved the project. All that remains now is the release of an environmental impact assessment report by the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC).
For six years, the government has come up against stiff resistance from conservationists and environmentalists opposed to the planned construction of an ultra-modern airport in Mugumu town, 40 km from northwestern Serengeti. The government’s move follows an earlier attempt to construct a 321-kilometre tarmac road through Serengeti.

This was shelved over concerns that it would destroy the only animal migration existing in the world.
The projects are a part of President Jakaya Kikwete’s dream to create a new gateway to Tanzania’s northern tourism circuit and open up potential investment opportunities in the natural resources-rich Lake Victoria zone.
The idea is that large jets could land directly at Serengeti to offer holidaymakers a hassle-free trip. “The new airport would offer tourists the option to use both Kilimanjaro or Serengeti airports,” said President Kikwete. The tourists could land at Kilimanjaro International Airport and, after visiting Tarangire, Manyara, Ngorongoro and Serengeti, use Serengeti international airport to fly back home.
Serengeti District Council Chairman John Ng’oina confirmed that the project had received the go-ahead from the Civil Aviation Authority and expected the environmental impact assessment report “anytime soon to pave the way for other crucial steps before the actual construction takes off.”
An American billionaire and conservationist, Paul Tudor Jones, is said to be willing to finance the construction.
Mr Tudor, a prominent Wall Street tycoon, runs a $16 million five-star lodge at Sasakwa Hill and the three wildlife rich hunting blocs of Grumeti, Ikorongo and Ikoma, covering nearly 110,000 hectares in western Serengeti.

“Mr Tudor is willing to bankroll the project, not only because he seeks close ties with the naturally well-endowed country, but because the airport would benefit his business as well since his higher-end clients would be using the airport,” a source  said 
Analysts say the airport would also be a major boost to Tanzania’s drive to increase the number of visitors from 800,000 to 1.6 million in 2015 and double tourism revenue from the current $1.4 billion to $2.8 billion annually in the next three years.
Natural Resources and Tourism Deputy Minister Lazaro Nyalandu said that the Serengeti airport would make life easier for tourists, who currently travel 300 kilometres by road from KIA to the famous game sanctuary.
“We want to cut down the time spent in travelling and enable our visitors to enjoy the abundant attractions,” Mr Nyalandu added.


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