National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) plans to start marketing direct flights to the United States this week.
The airline will begin selling tickets on the new route tomorrow, whereby travellers will have an opportunity to pre-book the inaugural and subsequent flights slated for later in the year.
The airline’s chairman Michael Joseph told The Standard yesterday it would issue detailed information tomorrow on the much-awaited flights, including commencement dates.
The direct flights are a culmination of lengthy talks between Kenya and the US and have been punctuated by numerous false starts, with the latter imposing strict conditions, including an upgrade of the security systems at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).
KQ was granted a permit to operate direct flights by the US Department of Transportation (DOT) in September last year.
JKIA was also granted a Category One status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) after the airport upgraded its security features, which included separation of the arriving and departing passengers.
Key trading partner
Security concerns had been the major hurdle that delayed direct flights between the two countries as the security status of the airport was deemed weak by US authorities.
The American authorities are yet to clear the airport as the last point of departure as well as inspection of KQ planes and other facilities before it is issued with an air operating certificate.
The US is one of Kenya’s key trading partners.
Last year, Kenya exported Sh43 billion worth of goods to the US, mostly under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).
In return, the US imported Sh47 billion worth of goods. Kenya hopes to increase the number of goods exported to the US market, especially through AGOA, which exempts from taxes certain goods from some African countries, including Kenyan. Direct flights to the US are also expected to boost Kenya’s tourism.
The US is a key tourist source market, but growth in tourists has been hindered by distance and lack of direct connection, whereby travellers have to go connect through Europe or the Middle East.
According to the US Department of Commerce, US exports to Kenya supported an estimated 8,000 jobs in 2016. US’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. The US goods trade surplus with Kenya was $371 million (Sh38.2 billion) in 2015.