Boost for trade as Air India set for direct Mumbai-Nairobi flights


An Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner. AFP

Air India is set to resume direct flights between Mumbai and Nairobi on November 27 following a two-month delay.

The direct flights were to begin on September 27 but were delayed to this month due to operational hitches.

“The planning for flights usually takes time and that is why there were operational delays. But all is now set for the flights this month with air tickets currently being sold...The maiden flight is scheduled to depart Mumbai for Nairobi at 6.25 am (local time),” said Indian’s High Commission to Kenya in a statement.

India’s national carrier is scheduled to fly four times a week between Nairobi and Mumbai and will cut travel time from between 10 and 11 hours to six hours. This will save travellers hours spent on flights that usually involve long layovers in Dubai, Middle East.

The commission notes that the flights are expected to shore up trade between India and Kenya as well as other East African Community countries.

Trade between India and Kenya is estimated at $2 billion annually.

According to 2018 data from India’s department of commerce, Kenya exports to India grew from $7.2 million to $137 million in 2017.

The data also indicates that India imports to Kenya went up from $1.974 billion in 2017 to $2.071 billion last year.

Air India used to operate directly between India and Kenya but later abandoned its operations.

Some of the key economic sectors that are expected to greatly benefit from the Mumbai-Nairobi direct flights include tourism, agriculture, health and pharmaceuticals as well as education.

“This week, we had a delegation of 40 Indian investors who met various Kenyan government authorities with a possibility of setting up or expanding their businesses in Kenya. It is expected that these flights will bring more people to Nairobi,” adds the statement.

In July this year, Indian High Commissioner to Kenya, Rahul Chhabra first disclosed that the flights would resume, noting that this was expected to shore up trade and connectivity between the two countries.

“I am excited to announce that Air India is launching direct flights between Mumbai and Nairobi on September 27 that also coincides with World Tourism Day. This will improve trade between Kenya and India and is a testimony that India attaches great significance to the people of Kenya,” added Mr Chhabra then in Eldoret.

Data released in January by Tourism CS Najib Balala showed that India ranks among the top five markets for tourist international arrivals in Kenya.

In the last three years, the number of visitors from India has doubled from 60,000 to 125,000 annually and it expected that the direct flights will boost the number. In August, Bollywood, India’s biggest film industry, also announced it would shoot a film next year in Kenya that is expected to showcase Kenya’s rich tourism potential. A huge number of Kenyans travel to India mostly for medical reasons, such as for cancer treatment, transplant surgery and joint replacement.

India is one of the most popular destinations for medical travel, with low travel fares and more affordable treatment options.

The India’s commission in Kenya said that there are plans to link Kenya’s and Indian’s hospitals as well as institutions of higher learning through satellite connectivity to boost health care services. The Indian government also offers 400 fully-funded scholarships to Kenyan students yearly to study in various institutions of higher learning.

Last November, Kenya Airways started its maiden direct flights from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to New York City, US, in a historic flight in Kenya’s aviation industry.

Achievement of this milestone has not come easy for the Kenyan airline.

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposes stringent conditions on African airports for clearance to fly directly to the US. Normal flights from Kenya to the US take up to 22 hours for the 11,849km between Nairobi and New York. But passengers now save up to seven hours, as the flights take 15 hours.