State mulls resumption of passenger flights

Kenya Airways (KQ) planes grounded at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) following the outbreak of COVID-19. Picture taken on March 24, 2020, [Edward Kiplimo, Standard]

The Government and airline companies are in talks to establish guidelines under which domestic and international flights through the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, JKIA will resume.

This is part of the State’s plan to gradually ease movement restrictions introduced when the country reported its first coronavirus (Covid-19) infection two months ago.

A-Zoom meeting scheduled yesterday by the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) for the airline industry representatives, travel agents and stakeholders was cancelled at the last minute, after the login details and password were leaked on social media.

Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala yesterday said the sector remains the worst hit, observing that the Government was looking for ways to resume economic activity gradually starting with the restaurants and hotels.

 “It’s been two months since the economy was closed from Covid-19 and we want to balance between stopping the spread of the virus and saving the economy,” said CS Najib Balala.

“Players in the sector have reached out to the Government to ask for the measures to be lifted and the important thing is how we respect the protocols put in place, otherwise we’ll definitely see a spike in numbers,” he said.

JKIA Airport Manager Gilbert Gogo said the country was following the trends in the global aviation industry and putting in place measures to comply with safety and health standards once operations resume.

 “We have had consultations with the board, Transport ministry and stakeholders on how to be prepared to work post-Covid,” he said. “We have been taking advantage of the lull in the industry and in the airports to conduct maintenance and passengers will see a change once operations resume.”

However, re-opening the region’s busiest aviation hub is a daunting challenge for the Government. Kenya’s infection rates remain high with global industry trends remaining uncertain.

Some major airlines have resumed passenger flights to select countries with domestic flights resuming in others.

Emirates Airlines yesterday announced it was resuming flights to eight countries including London, Heathrow, Frankfurt, Paris, Toronto and Sydney while South Korean national carrier Korean Air said it would resume flights to 19 destinations.

This has raised speculation that JKIA’s status as a regional hub, will pile pressure on policymakers to re-open it in coming weeks.

Data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics indicates the country’s main airports recorded 375,499 aircraft movements in 2019 with overall passenger traffic hitting 12.1 million.

The International Aviation Transport Association last week released guidelines on measures the industry should adopt to resume operations.

“Each country will have to develop their own protocols for reopening depending on their circumstances,” said Yilma Goshu, area manager for Ethiopian Airlines.

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