Tanzania to build airport near Serengeti National Park

Government partner with American billionaire to build airport for safari tourists

Tanzania is to construct an airport in a town near the Serengeti National Park this year, according to reports in local media.

The airport's construction is reportedly being funded in a public-private partnership between the Tanzanian government and Paul Tudor Jones, an American billionaire hedge fund manager and conservationist.

Jones has invested heavily in conserving Tanzania's natural habitat while his philanthropy includes educating local residents in a bid to reduce illegal poaching of wild animals. However Jones also has significant interests in Tanzania's safari industry, and owns the 140,000-hectare Grumeti Reserve exclusive safari destination which borders the Serengeti National Park, and is located just 50 km from the proposed airport.

Reports suggest that some $30 million has been earmarked to build the medium-sized airport whose location in Mugumu means that Safari tourists would land within easy reach of Serengeti National Park. Mugumu is in the far north-east of Tanzania, between the western border of the Serengeti and Lake Victoria.

Local politician Kebwe S. Kebwe said the aiport would be designed to handle light aircraft with a capacity of up to 60 people per flight.

It has also been reported that the project is awaiting the results of an environmental assessment report by the National Environmental Management Council (NEMC).

Currently most international tourists travel to Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA), located about 60 km east of Arusha. From there it takes about eight hours to drive the 325 km of poor roads to the Serengeti although many tourists use local companies such as Regional Air Services to fly directly from KIA to safari destinations such as Grumeti Reserve.

However it is the Ngorongoro conservation area east of the Serengeti – the opposite side to the proposed airport – that attracts the biggest number of tourists. Each year some 400,000 visitors, or more than 50 per cent of Tanzania's total annual number, visit the area which is on the Arusha side of the national park.

Some tourists also land in Arusha’s municipal airport (ARK) situated just southwest of Arusha on the Dodoma road, but this too requires a relatively long drive to the Serengeti. ARK is used primarily for domestic flights but in 2011 the Tanzanian government sanctioned the limited use of the small airport for international flights.

Those in favour of the proposed new airport in Mugumu say it will be beneficial to the country's crucial safari sector although environmentalists are firmly against the idea over concerns that increased human activity would impact negatively on the park's wildlife.