Tourism blow as agency reverses flights exemption


A domestic aircraft lands at the Kisumu International Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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 in a move that is now set to hit the tourism sector.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (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.

Mr Kibe said the ban 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.

This latest directive comes as a blow to local carriers, the majority of which operate from hubs in Nairobi and hoped that the earlier directive will help them stay afloat.

Domestic airlines such as Safarilink and AirKenya mostly serve tourist routes including Masai Mara, Tsavo, Malindi and Diani.

In allowing the domestic carriers to ferry international tourists out of the zoned area, Mr Kibe said he was simply implementing a government directive.

“We have allowed international tourist flights to operate domestically after the previous set deadline of Monday, March 29, 2021,” he told the Business Daily in an interview on Monday.

“These are new guidelines from the government. It’s not KCAA coming up with them. I’m simply a messenger,” he said.

The reversal of an earlier directive also comes as a blow to hotels with a lot of international guest bookings expected to be cancelled ahead of Easter holiday, which is one of Kenya’s high tourism seasons.

Safarilink and AirKenya had on Monday confirmed that foreign tourists could proceed with their safari flights.

“We are pleased to announce that international tourists can continue their safari flights with Safarilink. Accordingly, all existing bookings for international tourists will be honoured,” the local airline said in a statement earlier.