Direct flights to the US could lower freight costs by an estimated 20 per cent, cargo handlers have said, even as focus stays on the government to comply with the requisite security and safety standards that have delayed the resumption of the non-stop connection.
The US Federal Aviation Authority is scheduled to perform a fresh audit on the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in October after a previous review earlier this year failed to attain the minimum threshold of security and safety performance set by the American regulator.
US President Barack Obama, during his visit to Nairobi last month, said there was no definite timeline for the resumption of direct flights between the two countries due to the ongoing audit.
Kenya has been implementing a raft of recommendations by the US government to enhance security, among them separation of passenger arrival and departure terminals, clearing the flight path and fencing off the airport.
Freighters said resumption of direct flights between the two countries would immensely boost trade through lower charges.
“If the US allows Kenya’s bid to have direct flights then we will save up to 20 per cent on our cargo operation cost,” Astral Aviation chief executive officer Sunjeev Gadhia said.
“The multiple connections make the trip longer and compromises on on-time performance as there may be connection delays and missed connections, while multiple handling in the hubs exposes the cargo to mishandling that may reduce or degrade the cargo quality,” Jared Oswago, the divisional manager at Siginon Aviation said.
Mr Gadhia said all the firm’s cargo consignments have to go through Europe before connecting to America.
“Flower and other horticultural produce are perishable commodity, and having to go all the way to Europe then USA, reduces its quality by the time it gets to its final destination,” he said.
Mr Gadhia says direct flights will help in cutting down the number of days taken to export cargo from seven days currently to at least one day. He points out that direct flights will also allow them to bring in more goods after delivering their cargo in the US.
Mr Oswago notes that currently there are direct flights to US cities from Senegal, South Africa and Lagos. He said the direct flight is likely to operate between Nairobi and New York or Washington DC.
Kenya is largely importing medical engineering equipment, industrial products, air craft engines and chemicals while exporting textiles and perishable products such as flowers and vegetables.
Exports of duty-free goods to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act increased by a quarter last year to Sh30 billion. The goods, mainly textile products, rose 24.2 per cent from Sh24 billion in 2013 and accounted for 79 per cent of the total exports to the US.