Airlines oppose closing of airspace in five counties


Passengers disembark from a Jambojet plane. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Domestic air travel operators has opposed blocking local airlines to fly foreign tourists in and out of Nairobi and four surrounding counties, saying the move will kill tourism in Kenya.

Through their lobby, the— Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO), the airlines yesterday said the state erred in its decision, arguing that foreign tourist land in the country with Covid-19 certificates.

“All international tourists should be allowed to come to Kenya and proceed with their travels on domestic flights,” KAAO executive secretary Eutychus Waithaka told Shipping and Logistics in an interview yesterday.

“The travellers must observe all the safety travel measures imposed by the state to curb the spread of Covid -19.”

The aviation regulator made a U-turn Monday by cancelling the permission that it had granted some local airlines to fly foreign tourists in and out of Nairobi and four surrounding counties.

KCAA had earlier said the exemption was applicable to all airlines offering holiday travels.

However, in a quick reversal Monday evening, the regulator said international tourists will not be given exemption as communicated earlier.

“In compliance with presidential executive…KCAA wishes to clarify that as from 6PM today, all domestic passenger flights in into and out of the zoned area of Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru shall cease to operate until further notice,” said KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe.

The ban, Mr Kibe said, also affects international tourists on planned itineraries with tour operators and agents.

However, domestic flights outside the zoned areas will be allowed to operate as normal with Kenyans and international tourists permitted to reach their destinations within the stipulated curfew times.

But Mr Waithaka said it is wrong to allow international tourists to come into the country yet they cannot proceed with their travel to other counties. He added that foreign travellers, just like the other Kenyans, would follow all the same safety guidelines imposed by the State to keep safe.

Mr Waithaka also asked the State to allow domestic airlines to fly foreign tourists, arguing that a total suspension of operations will be a burden to carriers who must pay fixed costs whether or not they are operating.

“What is going to happen to planes that are grounded yet they must pay parking charges if we impose a total blanket ban on domestic travel,” he paused.

President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday afternoon banned movement into and out of Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu, and Nakuru in a fresh bid to curb a spike in coronavirus infections.

The head of State while directing the cessation of movement in and out of the five counties effective Saturday described them as “disease-infected areas” that are accounting for over 70 per cent of the new infections and deaths.

The stiff measures come in the wake of a spike in Covid-19 infections as daily positivity rates average 20 per cent from an average of 3.1 per cent in January as the country faces a third wave of the pandemic.