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Kenya receives Washington’s approval for direct US flights

Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE
Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenya is upbeat about launching direct flights to the United States earlier than planned after the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved non-stop air travel between the two countries.

Inspectors from America’s FAA gave Jomo Kenyatta International Airport a clean bill of health after an audit leading to the award of the long awaited Category One status.

This sets the stage for signing of flight agreements between Washington and Nairobi as well as airlines seeking direct flights between the US and Kenya before commercial operations can start.

Kenya, which hosted President Barack Obama in July 2015, wants to boost exports to Washington and increase visits by American tourists. Starting flights was part of a package of deals announced during Obama’s visit. “Kenya has today been granted Category One status by the US Government following a meticulous assessment audit by the FAA and other US agencies,” said a statement from the Transport ministry.

“The granting of this status means that airline operators, both in Kenya and the US, which have long desired to operate directly... will now be allowed to carry on their operations after certain processes including technical compliance and commercial arrangements are met.”

The FAA was meant to issue a statement by time of going to Press yesterday. The second class status of JKIA means passengers flying from Kenya to the US have to transit through Europe, the Middle East or any of the four African countries whose airports have achieved the Category One status. These are South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, and Nigeria.

Delta Airlines previously set a launch date for direct flights but cancelled due to security concerns.

Financially embattled Kenya Airways also plans to offer direct flights. US traffic usually transits through hubs like Dubai and Amsterdam. JKIA failed the US safety review in 2013 but has since improved security through upgrades.

New terminals have been opened over the past three years, allowing the airport to separate departures and arrivals, a key security requirement.   

“With Category One there will be faster movement of goods and people between the two countries, with an eradication of any delay especially to horticultural produce from Kenya,” the statement said.

In order to attain and maintain the rating, a country must demonstrate compliance with safety standards contained in the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.

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.

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