Morocco’s national carrier, Royal Air Maroc, is set to launch direct flights between Nairobi and Casablanca on March 31, significantly reducing the cost and distance of travel between the cities. The move is also expected to increase trade between the countries.
The State-owned Royal Air Maroc has been cleared to operate two weekly flights to JKIA, following the signing of trade and tourism agreements between the Kenyan and Moroccan governments.
Trade between the two countries is relatively low and the bilateral agreement signed in 2013 was meant to improve it.
“We shall operate two weekly flights on Thursday and Saturday and add a third frequency later on in the year,” said Othman Baba, the Air Maroc country manager for Kenya ,in an interview.
“This is great news for both countries since they are both great tourist destinations. As we fly people to Kenya, those who want to visit Morocco or connect to any of our 90-plus destinations can easily do so.”
Kenya’s exports to Morocco include jute, dyeing and tanning extracts and fruit juices. Its imports are fertiliser, synthetic fibres for spinning, perfumes and cosmetics, drugs, printing and bookbinding machinery.
The trade is valued at about Sh300 million and tilted in Morocco’s favour.
The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in June 2013.
The delegation of 106 Moroccan investors who witnessed it was particularly keen on investing in the country’s energy, agriculture and pharmaceutical sectors.
The pact was the second after an earlier one on tourism.
Morocco, which receives an impressive 10 million visitors per year, had earlier on signed a tourism agreement with Kenya whose annual tourist numbers are about a million, dipping from highs of 1.8 million in 2011.
“This is very good news for Kenya as it will open up a new market to export coffee and other products,” said Gilbert Kibe, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general.
Air Maroc, which is based at the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca, will operate Boeing 767-300 aircraft between Kenya and Morocco, carrying 236 passengers. Travellers to the North African country are currently forced go through Dubai, Doha, Amsterdam or Paris, a longer and costlier journey.
A one-way ticket from Nairobi to Casablanca on is currently priced at Sh54,784. Air Maroc has scheduled international flights from Morocco to African cities, Asia, Europe, and North America including two daily flights to New York — with plans to start flying to Washington DC in September.
Mohammed Sathi, head of the Moroccan Consulate in Nairobi, told the Business Daily that the Embassy processes about 200 visa applications every month.
“Morocco has a lot to offer in terms of tourism, especially since it is a popular destination for conferences. On the other hand, there are many businesspeople who want to invest in Kenya and Air Maroc will facilitate that,” Mr Sathi said.
In May 2009 the airline signed an agreement with the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) to pave the way for Casablanca-Nairobi flights in November of that year. This never materialised.
Three years later, Moroccan authorities revived the negotiations, suggesting that Kenya Airways and Air Moroc join forces as they sought to use Nairobi as to reach East Africa, the Seychelles and Madagascar.
In June 2013, during the signing of bilateral agreement with Kenya, the Morocco Minister of Industry said the flights would commence before the end of that year.