Kenya Airways (KQ) has finally been cleared to make direct flights to the United States.
The move is expected to help the struggling airline grow revenues as well as enable local industries increase exports to the American market and boost tourist numbers from the key source market.
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Security concerns were among the major hurdles that had delayed direct flights between Kenya and the US as the security status of the airport was deemed weak by the US authorities.
The latest development was put in motion in June when KQ applied for permission to fly to the US through its Embassy in Nairobi.
The approval came hot on the heels of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granting Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) Category One status after Kenyan authorities upgraded the airport’s security features, including separation of the arriving and departing passengers.
In an order issued on Wednesday this week, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) said it had granted the Kenyan airline a permit to operate scheduled and chartered flights to the US.
DOT had on June 12 given Americans and other interested parties a window to say whether they had objections to KQ being allowed to fly into the country.
“Kenya Airways Plc, a foreign air carrier of the Republic of Kenya, is authorised to engage in scheduled and charter foreign air transportation of persons, property and mail from any point or points behind Kenya via any point or points in Kenya and any intermediate points, to any points or points in the United States and beyond,” said DOT in the statement dated September 6.
Confirming the good news yesterday, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said there still remained two stages before the first KQ flight from JKIA departs for the US.
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“JKIA is yet to be determined as the last point of departure. This will be done in October then after that, it is for KQ to have specific aircraft in its fleet accessed,” he told Weekend Business.
“These aircraft will then be issued with an Air Operation Certificate, which will grant them permission to fly to the US.”
The airline said it expected to meet the conditions set and commence flights in the course of next year.
“I am confident that our team will complete the next milestones with the same success and allow us to operate non-stop flights to the US in 2018,” said KQ Commercial Director Vincent Coste.
“KQ is working with both the Kenyan Ministry of Transport and the US authorities to ensure all requirements are met.”
Direct flights to and from the US will provide a major boost to the tourism sector.
Growth in tourists from the US has been hindered by distance and lack of direct connection, whereby travellers have to connect through Europe or Middle East.
On the trade front, direct flights between the two countries will be a big boon, especially to Kenya, with the US being one of Kenya’s largest trading partners. Last year, Kenya exported Sh43 billion worth of goods to the US. In return, America imported Sh47 billion worth of goods.
Kenya hopes to increase the amount of goods exported to the US market, especially through the African Growth and Opportunity (AGOA) window, which exempts from taxes, certain goods from some African countries including Kenya.
“It means a lot. Our export commodities through Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) will be greatly enhanced,” said Macharia.
“In terms of tourism, people will now fly direct to Kenya. How about that? Then the value of our exports, especially flowers which pass through Europe will reach the US in their original state.”
According to the US department of Commerce, the US exports to Kenya supported an estimated 8,000 jobs last year. The world’s super power’s main exports to Kenya include aircraft, machinery, cereals and electrical machinery.
Kenya’s top exports to the US include woven apparel, coffee, tea, spices, edible fruits, macadamia nuts and vegetables.
By getting the all-clear to fly to the US, the embattled national carrier, which is undergoing turbulent times, joins an elite club of three other continental airlines that enjoy the privilege.
They are South African Airlines, Egypt Air and Senegal Airlines.
It is also expected that the US’s Delta Air will also reactivate its botched attempt to fly directly to Nairobi.