Local airlines banned from take off again as Covid third wave hits


A plane at Wilson Airport in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Domestic carriers face more turbulence following a third wave of Covid-19 in the country that has come with travel restrictions.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has directed the local airlines, with hubs in Nairobi, to ground flights from Monday noon after President Uhuru Kenyatta restricted movement in and out of the capital and four other counties, until further notice, to tame the spread of infections following a spike in cases.

“This is a further update that domestic flights shall continue to operate until Monday, 29th March at 12 pm. Operations of aircraft shall be allowed until the stated deadline and thereafter cease any movements,” said KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe.

Budget airline Jambojet, a subsidiary of national carrier Kenya Airways, announced suspension of flights between Nairobi and Mombasa, Kisumu, Eldoret, Malindi and Diani from Monday.

“We regret to inform all our customers and business partners that all the flights for the subsequent period on these routes are cancelled with immediate effect,” said Jambojet.

The airline said passengers who had booked tickets after March 29 would remain valid and would be rescheduled to a later date at no extra costs.

“The value of these tickets will remain valid for a period of 12 months from the 29th March 2021.”

Other local carriers such as Safarilink have also announced suspension of flights.

“We will allow the tickets to be used for the next three to six months without penalties as the case may be,” Safarilink CEO Alex Avedi told the Business Daily.

The aviation industry has been struggling to stay afloat following the Covid-19 disruptions that saw airlines ground their fleet to curb the virus spread last year.

Kenya banned domestic and international flights in March 2020 and restricted movement into four counties including Nairobi and Mombasa to curb spread of the coronavirus disease.

Travel resumed in July after President Kenyatta eased the restrictions.

On Friday, Mr Kenyatta banned air, road and rail movement in and out of Nairobi, Kajiado, Machakos, Kiambu and Nakuru counties effective Saturday, until otherwise notified.

Easter holiday

Jambojet had earlier this month increased frequencies on specific days leading to Easter following high demand for passengers seeking air travel ahead of the holiday that starts on April 2.

The airline increased direct flights from Eldoret to Mombasa to five weekly, from four initially with an additional flight on Thursday.

The direct flight to the coastal city was introduced last year and targeted tourists from western Kenya who seek convenience of flying directly to the coastal city without making a stopover in Nairobi.

The airline flies from Eldoret to Kisumu before proceeding to Mombasa.

“We will also continue to operate daily direct flights between Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret,” the airline said on Friday.

Kenya is grappling with a third wave of coronavirus infections with health facilities stretched to capacity as hospital admissions increased by 52 per cent in the last two weeks.

The virus has infected over 128,000 people and resulted in more than 2,000 deaths in the country.

The impact has been hit hard on Kenya’s crucial tourism and farm export businesses. Business closures, layoffs, salary cuts and hiring freezes have also had an impact on consumer spending and travel.

According to Jambojet, it lost Sh1.2 billion between April and July last year when aircraft were grounded.

“The new travel restrictions imposed by the State affects domestic carriers as well. This is a big blow to tourism too. We may have to close operations again. We are trying to negotiate with the State to exempt us to allow us to evacuate stranded international tourists in the various game parks,” said Safarilink CEO Alex Avedi.

Hoteliers have also reported guests have been cancelling bookings for the Easter holiday since the President's lockdown announcement