Kenya has opened the way for local airlines to launch direct flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka, after it signed a bilateral air services agreement that allows access to its skies.
Currently, for one to get to Sri Lanka, one has to go through Dubai before getting a connecting flight either directly to Colombo or through India.
“This agreement has laid the framework for direct access to the two economies that offer a combined market of over 60 million people,” said Transport minister Amos Kimunya. “Our airlines can benefit immensely by launching services between the two countries,” he said.
The agreement provides for unrestricted weekly frequencies and code-share arrangements, meaning that two airlines can share the same flight.
For instance, a seat can be purchased on one airline, but is actually operated by a cooperating airline under a different flight number or code from either of the two countries.
“The agreement is expected to open up trade opportunities between our two states especially trade in rubber products, processing and packaging of tea and the textile industry,” said Mr Kimunya.
Trade between the two countries has been in favour of Kenya. Kenya exports to Sri Lanka in 2007 stood at about Sh500 million, with Sri Lanka exporting goods and services worth Sh225 million to Kenya.
The agreement appears to have been targeted at the national carrier Kenya Airways, which has been on the expansion trail.
But on Tuesday, the firm said Sri Lanka was not on their radar, a move supported by the small passenger traffic.
“We don’t have immediate plans of launching flights to Sri Lanka this year,” said Chris Karanja, Kenya Airways corporate communications officer.
Sri Lanka is hoping to use Kenya as an entry point into the East African market and boost its exports that have been in favour of Kenya.
“Kenya is an important getaway into East Africa and we hope to use this agreement to encourage more business into the region,” said Mr J.P. Dissanayake, Sri Lanka high commissioner to Kenya. The country also hopes to strengthen its ties in the region.
“There are a number of Kenyan students who have trained in various Sri Lankan academic institutions through the Commonwealth scholarship scheme and this agreement will make it easier for new students,” said Mr Dissanayake.
Kenya exports to Sri Lanka include natural sodium carbonate, salt and pepper and the airline agreement offers exporters a chance to sell more.
Imports from the Asian country include natural rubber, cocoa and general industrial machinery especially for the export processing zones (EPZs).
Currently, there are about 10 Sri Lanka textile firms operating in Kenya’s EPZ’s and several other IT firms.
Sri Lanka is, however, one of Kenya’s fiercest competitors in the global tea market alongside India and boasts of more developed industries in both automated cut, tear and curl (CTC) and orthodox production methods, giving them a strong showing in the large CTC markets of the UK, Pakistan, US and Egypt.
However, the transport minister, a former trade minister, does not see this agreement as a threat to Kenyan tea arguing that Sri Lanka is also an importer of Kenyan Tea.
“Sri Lanka imports Kenyan tea for blending purposes and this agreement can only serve to increase Kenya’s tea export as well as provide room for blending in the country,” said Mr Kimunya.
“Sri Lankan tea and Kenyan tea are blended at a ration of 35 and 65 per cent respectively,” he said.