Shipping & Logistics

Longer wait for US direct flights as audit is delayed

KCAA says Kenya Airways  is expected to start direct flights to the US in April. FILE PHOTO | NMG
KCAA says Kenya Airways is expected to start direct flights to the US in April. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Kenya is set to wait a little longer for the direct flights to the US after the Americans postponed a crucial security audit.

The US Transport Security Administration was supposed to conduct an assessment of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in June to test its preparedness for direct flights.

“The assessment has been postponed because of the long time frame to get commercial and technical authority to operate,” said Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) managing director Gilbert Kibe.

Mr Kibe would not disclose the reason behind postponement but industry sources believe the US is keen to continue with its assessments after the August 8 polls.

JKIA was in February given Category One status after several audit processes by the US air agency- Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that had seen Kenya fail to meet a number of reviews, delaying earlier commencement date of August 2016.

A positive review would see JKIA being granted the Last Point of Departure (LPD) status, handing aircraft cleared at the facility landing rights at the US airports.

The key item on audit was the security measure that Kenya has put in place to guarantee direct flights between the two countries.

According to KCAA, KQ is expected to start direct flights to the US in April, however, postponement of the crucial assessment is likely to force a review.

In February, Transport Secretary James Macharia announced that officials from the US would be in the country for the final LPD assessment in June.

“We have requested another assessment in June this year at which point we hope to attain LPD status,” said Mr Macharia.

Kenya Airways, he said, was moving with speed to secure the approvals.

Kenya has been working on a number of targets as it sought to attain the Category One status. These include expansion of the airport.

New arrival terminals 1E and 1A are operational at the JKIA, marking a major step in the ongoing expansion and modernisation of the region’s busiest airport where passenger arrivals are expected to climb to grow.

The government has set aside Sh8.5 billion for the modernisation of JKIA in next year’s budget. The funds are to be used in expanding terminal 1B, C and D.

Plans are under way to construct the second runway to enable handling larger aircraft.

The Category One status comes as good news to freighters who have been longing for the introduction of direct flights between the nations.

Kenya is largely importing medical engineering equipment, industrial products, aircraft engines and chemicals while exporting textiles and perishable products such as flowers and vegetables.

KQ submitted its application for direct flights to the United States, targeting June 2018 for the inaugural landing in Nairobi.

It is seeking “economic authority” to initially partner with an American carrier through code-sharing and another green light for long-term independent flights.

The rigorous licensing is expected to take about eight months, marking the next step after US authorities awarded the Category One security and safety status in February.

Mbuvi Ngunze, KQ’s outgoing chief executive, told the Business Daily early this month that the application had been made, adding approval may come by the end of this year, paving the way for the launch in the summer season.

Mr Macharia says KQ will most likely enter into a code-sharing agreement with America’s Delta Air Lines, which is the Kenyan carrier’s SkyTeam partner, even as it pursues the possibility of making solo trips.

SkyTeam is an alliance of 20 carriers, including KLM, Korean Air, Air France, and Alitalia, who partner to ensure seamless travel for their customers.