Kenya may soon become the newest destination for non-stop flights from the United States after Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was granted Category One status by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Category One status allows air carriers from both countries to offer non-stop flights.
The FAA granted the status after carrying out a series of audits and assessments on the safety oversight provided by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. Based on these assessments, it was deemed that Kenya complies with international standards as set out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) of the United Nations.
Kenya’s Transportation Cabinet Secretary James Macharia told the Kenya Standard:
“Granting of this status is a major milestone in the growth and development of civil aviation in Kenya and East Africa.”
Kenya has invested heavily in airport infrastructure, particularly at JKIA after a devastating fire destroyed the International Terminal in 2013. Runways were renovated, a new terminal was built at the cost of Sh.7.2 billion, and a further Sh.1.3 billion was spent on new security equipment.
While certain technical compliance and commercial issues are yet to be worked out, the start of direct air service will provide a major boost to both tourism and exports.
Kenya is the world’s premier destination for Safari tourism and tourism is a major source of foreign exchange for the nation. In recent years, Kenya’s tourism industry suffered several major setbacks. A controversial election in 2007 and the violence which followed, problems along the Somalia border with the al Shabaab militia and the terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in 2013 all led to a sharp decline in visitors.
The Government has been working hard to restore the industry by investing heavily in security. These efforts appear to be paying off. According to the Kenya Tourism Board, for the first 10 months of 2016, tourism arrivals grew by 16 percent and for the first time in history tourists from the United States led the pack with 82,363 American visitors.
Exports should also benefit from direct air service. According to Bloomberg news, Kenya which is already Europe’s largest supplier of fresh-cut flowers could see major growth in that industry with new markets in the USA. In addition, Kenya also exports green beans and mangoes and is the world’s largest supplier of black tea. At the present time, Kenyan exports to the USA amount to Sh. 40.7 billion worth of goods mostly garments and textiles which may enter the United States duty-free under the African Growth Opportunities Act.
It isn’t clear yet which carriers will operate the new route. Delta Airlines had previously expressed interest in operating to Nairobi. In 2009, Delta had planned to operate direct, same plane service, from Atlanta to Nairobi via Dakar Senegal but authorization for the service was canceled by the FAA due to security concerns.