When Kenya’s national carrier made its inaugural direct flight from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi to John Fitzgerald Kennedy (JFK) International Airport in New York City, the Dreamliner 787-8 had an augmented two sets of crew with a passenger capacity of 234. With it, Kenya joins the elite global airlines with a landing slot at the prestigious JFK Airport, the fifth Sub-Saharan Africa country to fly directly to the US after South Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana and Nigeria. Cape Verde also flies directly to the US. KQ joins the likes of Singapore Airlines, who recently launched an inaugural 19-hour non-stop flight from Singapore to New York on a new Airbus A350-900. KQ’s clearance to earn a take-off slot at JFK airport was no mean fete. In aviation terms, a landing slot or take-off slot is a right granted by an airport owner to a slot holder to schedule a landing or departure for a specified period. The slot is allocated in line with guidelines set by the International Air Transport Association’s Worldwide Airport Slots Group.
In February, upon assessment, testing and auditing, JKIA was granted Category One status by the US Federal Aviation Administration to commence direct flights from Nairobi to New York. In an interview aboard the flight, Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma acknowledged the behind-the-scenes efforts and hard work that went into making it a success. This development has brought into sharp focus discussions on how Kenya and Africa will benefit from the direct flights in terms of trade, tourism and diaspora remittances. The direct flights will link Kenya and Africa in general to the West Indian Coast and the Western hemisphere consisting of the Americas, parts of Eurasia, Russia, Oceania and Antarctica. They will grow trade ties and volumes between Kenya and the US thereby augmenting efforts by Government to reduce the existing trade imbalance in favour of the US. According to trade statistics, aggregate trade between US and Kenya last year amounted to Sh102.2 billion, with US exports to Kenya totaling Sh57.2 billion while Kenya’s exports to the US amounted to Sh45 billion.
With the launch of the Nairobi-New York direct flights, an increase in the flow of goods and services between the two countries will come about by nearly 25 per cent per year. More importantly, Kenya has the opportunity to increase access of her goods to the American market and reap the benefits of African Growth Opportunity Act that accords duty-free exports for selected products. As trade grows, there will be more foreign exchange earnings and technological transfer that will create employment not only in Kenya but also in East Africa and Africa as a whole. With shortened flight duration and zero layover, the traditional 22-hour journey across trans-Atlantic will be reduced to 14 hours.
Kenya now has an opportunity to not only increase her trade with the US but to also promote the inflow of foreign investments. Investors can hold meetings in Kenya, have dinner in Nairobi and breakfast in New York city The direct flights will also promote tourism through increased visitors’ arrival from the US and the Western hemisphere, which is expected to open up Kenya to new growth frontiers. Last year, the US remained Kenya’s leading source of market for tourists with 114,507 visitors. The sector is estimated to grow at 16 per cent premised on the Kenya-US direct flights and the visa-on-arrival policy for Africans. Finally, the direct flights will act as an incentive to invest back home for the Kenyan diaspora community in the US and Americas through diaspora remittances. Last year, figures from Central Bank of Kenya indicated that the total diaspora inflows amounted to Sh194 billion, with the US being the top source for diaspora remittances with Sh100 billion.
Kenya Airways recently commenced nonstop flights to the United States, which completed a process that has been in the works for more than 10 years.
The daily flights to New York’s JF Kennedy International Airport are expected to substantially boost the struggling airline to grow revenues as well as enable local industries increase exports to the American market and draw more US tourists to Kenya. Kenya Airways (KQ) becomes the fifth carrier in Africa to make direct flights to the US with the other four in what can be termed as an elite club being Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airlines, Egypt Air and Senegal Airlines. KQ Chief Executive Sebastian Mikosz said the airline is looking to connect the East African region to the East Coast of the United States, with Nairobi serving both as a destination and a hub for people travelling to and from the region. Offers link Currently, Ethiopian Airlines through its Bole International Airport hub in Addis Ababa offers such a link. We will be offering a big added value to Kenya and the region. We are thinking beyond Nairobi and have our eyes on Sub-Saharan Africa. We will offer connections to numerous cities in the region, he said in a recent media interview. Know if news is factual and true. We are aiming to connect the East Coast of Africa and East Coast of the US We are living in a continent of over a billion people and we are the fifth airline to fly direct to the US. Nairobi will be the seventh city in Africa. Ethiopian Airlines currently seen as the dominant carrier in Africa and has in the recent past acquired and partnered with numerous smaller carriers across the region in a bid to remain ahead of competitors. It might have an upper hand considering the heavy support by its government but Mr Mikosz said when it came to operating direct flights to the US, the competition would be healthy with the two carriers pushing each other to be better while increasing the much needed traffic between the region and North America. The better Ethiopian is, the better KQ is, he said. KQ expects the route to account for 10 per cent of its revenues in 2019, which would translate to about Sh10 billion, going by its performance in 2017. The airline reported revenue of Sh106.28 billion in the year to March 2017. Game changer Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia says the direct flights will be a game changer not only for KQ but to the Kenyan economy. From the enthusiasm we are seeing from travellers it is clear people have been waiting for this and they want to travel, he told Weekend Business. The US is already our biggest source of tourists and one of the biggest importers of Kenyan goods and this is before the direct flights. The shorter travel time and cheaper connection fees between the two countries definitely means more business, said Mr Macharia. The flights to US are expected to contribute in direct and indirect job creation. KQ expects to hire about 150 people to fill various roles that will facilitate the new route. ALSO READ: Exploit direct flights, traders told According to the Kenya Economic Survey 2018, industries engaged in production of goods for export to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) initiative employed 44,000 people by December 2017 and exported goods worth Sh32.8 billion to the US. Total exports to the US stood at Sh47 billion. The Trade ministry is currently evaluating modalities to grow exports under Agoa. The number of tourists from the US stood at 148,000, contributing a substantial chunk of the 1.24 million tourists to Kenya in 2017. Kenya Tourism Board Chief Executive Betty Radier said the direct flights will be a major boost to tourist arrivals from the US market, which is currently Kenya’s top source market. We expect a 15 per cent increase in arrivals from the American market. Besides, the flight, which will be the first direct flight from East Africa to the US, will strengthen Nairobi as a hub destination for travellers transiting through while heading to the US, she said. Non-stop flights between Nairobi and New York will take between 14 and 15 hours. This is in comparison to more than 20 hours on flights currently servicing the route that have stop-overs in other cities in Europe. For instance, connecting through London takes more than 23 hours while through Amsterdam takes one 24 hours. The direct flights come on the back of the complex restructuring that KQ undertook and completed last year. Increased stake ALSO READ: Kenya Airways opens Euro Account to boost ticket sales The re-organisation, which entailed conversion of debt into equity, resulted in the Government substantially increasing its stake to 48.9 per cent and also saw a consortium of local banks become the second-largest shareholder in the airline with a 38.1 per cent stake. The national carrier is also pushing to run JKIA. The plan, still in its early stages, has already received Cabinet backing and now awaits regulatory approvals. The airline said the partnership would result in speedier solutions to certain challenges at