As Kenya joins the rest of the world in marking the International Civil Aviation Day on Friday, the country beams with hope of bigger returns from trade and tourism following a series of milestones in transforming Nairobi into a regional aviation hub.
From scoring higher grades of safety and security to winning rights for historic direct flights to the US market and coupled with expansion of both domestic and regional routes, 2018 has so far been a rosy one for the aviation sector in Kenya.
Just this year, Kenya scored highly on safety in an audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The country scored 78 per cent on the safety audit, which was an improvement from the previous score of 66 per cent in 2008.
Some of the safety audits conducted by ICAO include inspection of Kenya Airways and other domestic airlines as well as aviation facilities in the country. Others include audit on personnel training and operation, licensing and surveillance of air operators.
This year marked a milestone in Kenya’s aviation industry following the launch of direct flight from Nairobi to New York. This followed the move by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to grant Jomo Kenyatta International Airport a Category One status.
The granting of International Aviation Safety Assessment (Category 1) in February, 2017, was the culmination of a long journey that started way back in 2010 by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority(KCAA).
Category One status is given to States that have demonstrated effective implementation of ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices. “The flight will have a direct impact on the Kenyan economy as it is expected to generate jobs by boosting trade between Kenya and the US, both in terms of goods and services” Tourism and Wildlife Secretary, Najib Balala, said on the eve of the Kenya Airway’s maiden direct flight to the US.
The flight will facilitate direct cargo shipment of Kenya’s exports such as its flowers, tea and coffee as well textiles and apparels by air, directly to the US market, he said.
“The direct flight will also substantially boost Kenya’s global profile as a tourism destination as it will provide a shorter, quicker and more affordable connection for tourists and business travellers coming to Kenya” added Mr Balala.
Tourists from North and South America generally connect to Kenya and Africa through Europe, making the duration of their trip about 24 hours. However, with the direct flights, the travel time will reduce drastically to 15 hours. The Kenya Tourism Board anticipates that the reduced travel time will make Kenya the preferred long-haul tourism destination.
Kenya has now joined seven other African countries that have Category One status. These include Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, Cape Verde and Ethiopia.
The domestic air travel market has also seen rising demand in the recent years as more Kenyans opt to fly due to rising incomes and construction of new airstrips and airports.
The western Kenya route has particularly registered increased activity as domestic airlines increased the flight frequency to cash in on demand. In a span of four months, three airlines have launched or increased flights to Kisumu International Airport, stepping up competition for established carriers such as the Kenya Airways, Jambojet, Fly540 and Britex Airlines.
Freedom Airline Express started its maiden flights to the lakeside city in May. The latest airline to operate the route is Safarilink Aviation Limited, bringing the number of players to seven. Recently, Jambojet added more flights frequency on the Nairobi-Kisumu route by four to 24 trips per week.
Increased demand from travellers made Jambojet add flights from three to four on Monday, Friday and Saturday while also introducing an early morning trip on Sunday to meet the weekend demand. Domestic flights to the coastal circuit have also increased—providing a boon to investors in beach and conference tourism. More new players have entered the coastal circuit routes—helping to cut ticket prices especially on the Mombasa route which had been the most expensive in the country due to high demand from both local and international leisure travellers. Air fare to Mombasa has now dropped to an average low of Sh4,300 from a high of between Sh6,500 and Sh7,500 previously.