Non-stop flights between Kenya and the US could grow trade, tourism and the hotel sectors two-fold in the first year of commencement.
According to Kenya’s Ambassador to the US Robinson Githae, direct flights will increase Nairobi’s cargo traffic and solidify trade between America and East Africa, with volumes of top exports such as fresh-cut flowers expanding exponentially.
Mr Githae confirmed that all approvals for direct flights had been obtained from US aviation authorities, adding that national carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) should now move fast to rework its route plan to include US cities.
“We have attained all the approvals. What remains is for KQ to reorganise its routes and launch the inaugural flight,” he said in an interview with The Standard in the US.
“Business entities and leaders are angling to be part of the inaugural flight to and from the US,” he added.
Safety certification was issued by the US Office of International Aviation in February and effected on September 5, 2017, a move that has attracted the interest of top aviation players.
Eight years ago, Delta Airlines cancelled planned flights between Atlanta in the US and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport through Dakar, Senegal, over security issues.
Delta, together with KQ, are members of the Sky Team airline alliance.
Githae said the lengthy travel time to the US and high cost of transporting produce via transit points such as Britain’s Heathrow and Holland’s Amsterdam airports would soon end.
“Now, with direct flights, there will be enormous advantages. Kenyan flower exporters will no longer be subjected to ‘unnecessary’ levies at transit points."
Kenya is America’s 85th largest goods trading partner with $1.5 billion (Sh150 billion) in total trade. Goods exported totalled $937 million (Sh93.7 billion) while imports hit $565 million (Sh56.5 billion).
The US trade surplus with Kenya was $371 million (Sh37 billion) last year, according to the Office of the US Trade Representative.
Githae said Americans had overtaken the British in tourism travel to Kenya and that the arrivals were more impressive than what Uganda and Tanzania received. He said non-stop flights would boost the hospitality industry.
According to tourism statistics, 60 per cent of visitors to East Africa rely on air transport. However, an average 100,000 Americans visit Kenya annually despite a lack of direct flights.
But he warned that the ongoing political stalemate in Kenya could roll back gains in trade and tourism.
“Last week, three delegations headed for Kenya had to cancel their trip due to political anxiety. Two were trade delegations and one was by a university. If we don’t get our politics right, we will hurt the economy,” he warned.