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Kenya plans Bill to pave way for direct air link with the US

Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE
Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

Kenya is set to take another crucial step in its bid for direct air link to United States as the Attorney-General prepares to forward the draft Civil Aviation Bill 2015 to Parliament.

The proposed legal change is one of the conditions Kenya is expected to fulfil before the start of direct flights, possibly by April.

The Bill, if passed by Parliament, will take away most of the powers that have been vested on Cabinet Secretaries and transfer them to the head of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) as one of the conditions set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said most of the requirements set by the international aviation authority have been met, paving the way for the airport to be upgraded to category one status that would allow for direct flights between Nairobi and Washington.

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“We have met most of the requirements and it is up to the National Assembly to hasten the process of passing the Civil Aviation Bill once it is taken to the floor of the House as this is the only remaining hurdle towards achieving direct flights to US,” said Mr Macharia.

He noted that following the completion of all relevant audit as required by the US aviation authorities, the direct flights are supposed to start in May subject to adoption of the Bill.

Parliament will come back from recess next month. Mr Macharia said the House would fast-track the passage of the Bill once it resumes.

He noted that the government will be making a major statement in regard to the progress that would have been made in April.

Kenya has been implementing a raft of recommendations by the US government to enhance security, among them separation of passenger arrival and departure terminals, clearing the flight path and fencing off the airport.

A new terminal opened two years ago and a second one will open soon, allowing the airport to separate departures and arrivals, a key security requirement.

Freighters argue that the resumption of direct flights between the two countries would immensely boost trade through lower charges.

“If the US allows Kenya’s bid to have direct flights then we will save up to 20 per cent on our cargo operation cost,” Astral Aviation chief executive officer Sunjeev Gadhia said in an interview.

“The multiple connections make the trip longer and compromises on on-time performance as there may be connection delays and missed connections, while multiple handling in the hubs exposes the cargo to mishandling that may reduce or degrade the cargo quality,” Jared Oswago, the divisional manager at Siginon Aviation said.

Direct flights from Kenya are likely to operate between Nairobi and New York or Washington DC. Currently in Africa, there are direct flights to US cities from Senegal, South Africa and Lagos.

Inspectors from the US Federal Aviation Administration are expected to complete their audit of the airport before the end of March.

Jomo Kenyatta International Airport scored 88 per cent when it was assessed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) last September.

The airport failed the same assessment in 2013, but has since improved security, Mr Macharia said.

“We have more trained security personnel and very modern scanners for people and goods,” the minister said.

US President Barack Obama, during his visit to Nairobi last year, said there was no definite timeline for the resumption of direct flights between the two countries due to the ongoing audit.

A number of airlines have expressed interest to offer direct flights between Kenya and the United States. The country suffered a setback when Delta Airlines, that had previously set a launch date for express flights cancelled, citing security concerns.

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