The signing by President Mwai Kibaki of a new aviation law on Monday has edged Kenya closer to attaining the long-coveted rights to fly directly to the United States.
The Civil Aviation Bill, 2013, is one of the 30 laws the President assented shortly before the 10th Parliament dissolved.
The new law provides a legal framework to enhance safety in Kenya’s airspace and strengthens the role of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) in ensuring safer skies. KCAA is the regulator of the aviation industry.
This comes as a relief to exporters and passengers who have been transiting mainly through Europe.
The new law provides regulation on aviation security which has been a growing concern in the terror-prone industry worldwide.
Insecurity has been one of the challenges that have seen Kenya denied Category One status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Attaining the status would allow direct flights between Kenya and the US.
“This is the law that will unlock our Category One status allowing direct flights between Kenya and the US,” said KCAA’s director-general Hilary Kioko.
US based airlines have been eyeing Kenya as a potential growth market and are looking to touch down in Nairobi where a new airport is in the pipeline.
One such company is Delta Airways which was set to launch direct flights between the two countries in 2009. However, concerns over safety and security saw the US government deny the airline permission to launch flights just days to the event.
Kenya Airways has no immediate plans to roll out flights between Kenya and the US. The earliest it plans to roll out a flight to the US, specifically to capital Washington, is in 2017-2018, according to its 10 year strategy.
The new law was mainly informed by an audit carried out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in August 2008. The audit showed that Kenya’s aviation law was insufficient in addressing security challenges and the authority lacked powers to expand the scope of inspection of aircrafts.
KCAA is confident that with the passing of the law Kenya will be rated favourably by ICAO in so far as aviation safety and security is concerned. The next audit is expected to be in May 2013, said Colonel (Rtd) Kioko.
“We are not saying that Kenyan skies were unsafe; the new law actually strengthens us to ensure that our skies address growing concerns and remain safe going ahead,” said Mr Kioko.
The law establishes a tribunal with exclusive jurisdiction. Air operators will be compelled to put in place an effective drug and alcohol-testing systems to be approved by KCAA.
Those who fail to do so face a monetary penalty besides the withdrawal or cancellation of their licenses.
It also seeks to ensure that Kenya discharges its international obligation as set out under the Chicago Convention and comply with the ICAO standards in aviation safety and security matters.
The US has continuously cited some of the challenges pointed out by the ICAO audit on security, especially oversight, as one of the reasons for denying the status that would allow direct flights.
The ongoing expansion of JKIA is also expected to boost the country’s chances to attain the status.
Kenya has been working with the US government under the “Safe Skies for Africa Initiative” to improve Kenya’s aviation safety and security.
Other than the Civil Aviation Bill 2013, the President also signed The International Interests in Aircraft Equipment Bill 2013.
The International Interests in Aircraft Equipment law is in line with the Convention on International Interests in Mobile Equipment, signed in Cape Town in 2001, of which Kenya is a signatory.
The law is expected to create an enabling environment for industry players to efficiently finance acquisition of equipment in line with global standards.
“This will give lenders more confidence to finance Kenyan operators. In the long run we hope the industry will acquire new equipment which has an impact on safety; new safer equipment,” Mr Kioko said.