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Kenya Airways pleads for State protection over new competition

By Macharia Kamau | Published Fri, August 11th 2017 at 19:05, Updated August 11th 2017 at 19:33 GMT +3
Kenya Airways Board Chairman Michael Joseph.

National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) wants the Government to slow down licensing of new airlines to fly to Nairobi, arguing that they are eating into its market share and could threaten its survival.

This, however, negates the stand by other Government entities, including the Tourism ministry, that advocate for opening up the country’s skies to grow the tourism industry as well as entrench the country as a regional hub.

KQ Chairman Michael Joseph said the Government should not invest in the airline but should also ensure that it is both competitive and that the playing ground was level.

He said licensing foreign carriers to operate numerous flights into and out of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) had made it difficult for the airline to compete, especially considering its current position.

Mr Joseph also said other carriers enjoyed a degree of support and even protection from their respective home governments.

“We want the Government to understand that KQ is a national airline, and there is need to protect it. There is no need to pump in money and then leave it at that,” he said earlier this week after a general meeting with the airline’s shareholders.

“There is need to ensure that the playing ground is level by having rational policies on air transport where you do not kill your own airline by opening up your skies,” he said.

The Transport ministry has over time given approval to different airlines to operate both scheduled and charter flights into Kenya, mostly through JKIA and the Moi International Airport Mombasa.

Dominate skies

Among the airlines that have announced that they will be flying to Kenya -- some of which are making a return to the country after suspending their services for years -- include Air India that will introduce flights later in the year and Air France that will start flights in March 2018.

These are in addition to a host of carriers from the Middle East that have in recent years dominated the African skies and even edged out African carriers with relatively lower prices.

The growth in competition in the airline industry has been praised by the tourism industry and the business community. They say opening up Kenyan skies is among the few options that the country has to grow the number of visitors to Kenya.

Mr Joseph said while KQ was not asking the Government to adopt a closed sky policy, it should be considerate to KQ whose survival depended largely on how many passengers it flies to and from Kenya.

He added that KQ should be looked at differently from carriers such Middle Eastern airlines, which according to him, have profitability as a secondary motive.

“We are not asking for protectionism. KQ is usually compared with RwandAir, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern carriers but they have a sort of different mandate. What we are asking is for the Government to consider our business model and factor it in in licensing,” he said.

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