In the ever growing debate around the proposal by national carrier Kenya Airways to merge operations with Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), critics have dismissed KQ as a loss-making entity seeking to take over a profit making one.
Indeed, KQ has for the last few years operated at a loss while Kenya Airports Authority (KAA), the State body that runs JKIA along with 300 airstrips, has made reasonable margins.
But this has changed in the last two years as a new management has sought to turn around the airline by restructuring staggering debts and making noticeable efforts to cut out bloated supply contracts. Whilst lost in the focus on KQ’s losses, the fact remains that JKIA is almost solely dependent on the national carrier for its business both directly and indirectly. The carrier is responsible for about 60 percent of overall traffic at JKIA.
It is therefore fair to say, JKIA could not have reached its status were it not for KQ. But should KQ collapse or limit its operations, JKIA will be downgraded to regional status as will see a decline in its business and numbers.
KQ took a business decision that made JKIA a destination both for its clientele and for other airlines seeking to exploit the airport’s hub status.
When many African airlines collapsed, and international carriers were pulling out of African routes, KQ decided to make JKIA its base of operations and to fly into and out of these African countries.
Using a Hub and Spoke model, KQ would in the morning bring in passengers from different African countries into JKIA on its short-haul jets and would connect them on long-haul jets to fly out to international destinations.
KQ would do the same in reverse order, from international destinations into JKIA and subsequently to African capitals.
In so doing, KQ became the default national carrier for many of these African countries as it inter-linked them between Africa, Europe and Middle East.
Many more airlines were flying into Nairobi from foreign cities because they could connect to KQ’s extensive African network for the final leg to the various African countries.
Kenya Airways had built the most extensive African network of any carrier making Nairobi a favoured place to link with flights to West Africa, central and southern Africa including DRC, Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania among others.
Rather than operate from South Africa or Egypt, international organisations and multinational companies with a pan-African operation took notice and gave preference to Nairobi as a base to set up their headquarters given its central location, only four hours away from the farthest parts of Africa, and the availability of flights to those countries through KQ.
KQ and JKIA have therefore had a symbiotic relationship, growing off each other’s strengths. The fortunes of KQ and JKIA are tied together at the hip and it is important to think of making the proposed merger work for the greater interest of the nation.
The writer is a communications consultant.