The journey to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s (JKIA) Category One status has been a long one, paved with lobbying, high-profile dialogues and massive investments.
Just for purposes of formality, another team of assessors is expected in Kenya, but the deal is as good as done. The Category One status attained last week now paves the way for direct flights between the country and America.
There have been several audits by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in which Kenya failed to meet a number of reviews, delaying the earlier commencement date of August 2016.
The key item in the audit was the security in place to guarantee direct flights between the two countries.
December last year, Kenya was given a clean bill of health on safety standards at the JKIA, but the FAA introduced an additional set of conditions that required the country to implement a new system for licensing engineers.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe said Kenya would implement the new system before April, noting that a number of engineers have been sent for further training.
In the next three months, experts from the US are expected in the country to assess and approve the JKIA as the last point of departure (LPD). The airport has been undergoing regular assessment by the US Transportation Security Administration for purposes of analysing security preparedness as the LPD.
Transport secretary James Macharia said Kenya Airways is moving with speed in securing the requisite department of transport approvals to establish services to the US.
“We are requesting another assessment in June this year at which point we hope to attain LPD status,” said Mr Macharia.
“Following the attainment of Category One status, Kenya Airways will immediately apply for approval to codeshare with US airlines while concurrently pursuing approval for direct flights,” he added.
After the audit, the FAA reported to the International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA), which set a date for the final audit before it is declared a Category One status.
Under the IASA programme, the FAA determines whether a country’s oversight of its airlines that operate or seek to operate in the US or code share with an American carrier comply with the International Civil Aviation Organisation safety standards.
Kenya has been working on a number of issues to attain the Category One status. They include expansion of the airport.
New arrival terminals 1E and 1A are currently operational at the JKIA, marking a major step in the ongoing expansion and modernisation of the region’s busiest airport where passenger arrivals are expected to climb to 864,959 this year from 823,770 in 2015.
The government has set aside Sh8.5 billion for the modernisation of JKIA in next year’s Budget. The funds, according to Transport principal secretary Irungu Nyakera, will be used in expanding terminal 1B, C and D.
Mr Macharia also said that plans are afoot to construct the second runway to enable the airport to handle larger aircraft.
“The tendering for the second runway has started as we are looking at expanding flight path to handle larger aircraft such as the Airbus 380, which cannot land at the JKIA at the moment,” he said.
The Category One status comes as good news to freighters who have been longing for the introduction of direct flights between the two nations.
Sanjeev Gadhia, chief executive of Astral Aviation, a Kenyan-based cargo flight says they are exploring schedule services for perishables from Nairobi to JFK airport in the US using its B747-400F aircraft, which is leased from Atlas Air in America.
“We are excited about the Category One status, which offers new opportunities for direct flights between the two countries, we are moving with speed to establish one once we meet all the set conditions,” said Mr Gadhia.
Astral Aviation, which was declared winner of the African All Cargo Carrier of the Year at the Stat Times International Award for Excellence in Air Cargo last week in Johannesburg, currently serves the US market through Europe.
REDUCE DELIVER TIME
Mr Gadhia said 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 pointed out that direct flights will also allow them to bring in more goods after delivering their cargo in the US.
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.