Competitors present KQ with opportunity to improve service delivery

One of Kenya Airways' Dreamliner on the runway at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Nairobi. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Recent developments in the Kenyan aviation sector reflect the easing of global restrictions precipitated by Covid-19.

Fly Dubai and Ethiopian Airlines have been granted frequencies that allow them to fly directly to Mombasa. This is within the framework of Bilateral Air Service Agreements (Basas) between the three governments.

Basas are negotiated for entire countries. Thus, it is inaccurate to say, as some have suggested, that airlines from Dubai and Ethiopia were denied entry to Mombasa. A country granted landing rights to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has, by extension, the same rights to Moi International Airport (MIA).

It is also imperative to note that whereas Basas are between countries, they designate airlines which then determine how to distribute the frequencies they are allocated. Prior to 2020, airlines from Dubai and Ethiopia had a number of frequencies allocated to them and distributed between JKIA and MIA. But with the advent of Covid-19, and with the closure of the global aviation industry, these frequencies have had to be reallocated gradually.

This is because when global aviation opened up, restrictions were placed that limited the number of passengers on a plane to a fraction of actual capacity. Frequencies for most airlines were reduced to preclude situations arising from numerous airlines competing for limited numbers of passengers.

With the removal of restrictions, including vaccine mandates, it is clear that an inflection point has been reached in the global aviation industry. This is evident in the reallocation of frequencies previously withheld across the world. Kenya welcomes this development for two reasons: More airlines accessing JKIA and MIA mean more tourists, which is good for the economy. Second, the reentry of competitors presents Kenya Airways with an opportunity to improve on its product offering by bench-marking against other airlines.

There is a tendentious argument that calls for the opening of Kenyan skies, including the granting of all nine freedoms of the air, to every foreign airline. The same argument attributes the restriction of frequencies to extant protectionist policies to give an advantage to the National carrier. Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the national carrier needs traffic funneled into the country by foreign airlines so that it provides the last mile connectivity to destinations within the African continent.

That said, Kenya would be remiss to overlook practices of other countries that pay lip service to Basas. Such countries are known to give full reciprocal rights to foreign airlines only on paper. In practice, travel marketers are mandated to unfairly direct 80 per cent of traffic to the country’s airlines. Further, there are countries that withhold funds due to the national carrier from sale of tickets in their jurisdiction. A report from CH-Aviation last year mentioned that, “Nigeria, Ethiopia and Malawi are withholding about $28 million of revenue from Kenya.”

Kenya should also guard against capacity dumping, described as, “the airline strategy of adding additional flights to a route in an attempt to drive a competitor out of business or off the route.”

Mr Khafafa is a public policy analyst