KQ and Eritrea Airlines set for turf war over the Nairobi-Asmara route

A Kenya Airways  plane at JKIA. The airline has revived its plan to launch the Nairobi -Asmara route. File
A Kenya Airways plane at JKIA. The airline has revived its plan to launch the Nairobi -Asmara route. File 

Kenya Airways and Eritrean Airlines are set for a major turf war as both national carriers finalise plans to launch new routes between Asmara and Nairobi.

Asmara-based Eritrean Airlines is expected to resume flights to the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by November, ending a six-year absence since it stopped flying to Kenya.

The airline’s commercial manager, Mr Berhane Mehari, told the Business Daily that it would target both passenger and cargo business in Nairobi, which would serve as a link to current and future destinations in Southern Africa, Europe and Middle East.

Kenya Airways is also plans to start flights to Asmara next year after it shelved a similar move in 2006 on trade restrictions by the Eritrean government, including a compulsory use of the local currency.

“We shall use three aeroplanes to launch the flights to Kenya,” Mr Mehari said. “We are targeting cargo, leisure, and business travellers from Europe to Africa.”

The two carriers are set for stiff competition, especially in the Kenyan market, which is attracting airlines seeking growth opportunities on the rising profile of the country as a major transport hub.

“Asmara is one of the destinations we will be flying to in 2012,” said Kenya Airway communications manager, Chris Karanja.
“Relations between the two countries have improved and we don’t foresee a major regulatory barrier.”

Currently, three airlines ply the Nairobi-Asmara route, namely Egypt Air, Lufthansa Airlines and Sudan Air.

Eritrean Airlines is seeking a station manager to look after its business in Nairobi where its cargo and passenger operations will be represented by a general sales agent.

The airline’s fleet consists of an Airbus A320-200, a Boeing 767-200ER, with plans to acquire another Airbus plane next month.

The Eritrean carrier has been bogged down by under-investment and the country’s poor international image due to allegations that it sponsors of terrorism, which has denied it licences to expand its operations in some countries.

The US — home to the biggest aircraft manufacturers — has reportedly barred its companies from leasing aircraft to Eritrean Airlines in line with its sanctions on the country.

Eritrean Airlines has, however, started an aggressive expansion plan this year, with an eye on reclaiming routes that were cancelled in the past few years.