Bernard Gitau @benagitau
As Kenya Airways (KQ) prepares to touch down in New York, the national carrier has started selling tickets for the maiden non-stop flight scheduled on October 28. The announcement came as a relief and confirmed the carrier had received the nod to land in the US after a gruelling approval process.
“We are excited to announce the opening of ticket sales for the only non-stop daily flight from Nairobi to the USA,” said KQ chief executive officer Sebastian Mikosz. While an elated chairman, Michael Joseph, said the development was as a symbol of KQ rebound.
“The Nairobi-New York direct flight shows the determination of Kenya Airways remains to be the Pride of Africa ,” said Joseph. Passengers on the flights — billed to be fastest connection between East Africa and the US — will pay Sh89,000 and Sh257,634 introductory fares for an economy and Premier World tickets respectively.
Flights will depart daily from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) at 11.25 pm arriving at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York at 6.25 am the following day. From New York, flights will depart at 12:25 pm to land in Nairobi at 10.55 am, the following day.
“The flights will be the fastest connection from East Africa to New York, with 15 hours duration eastbound and 14 hours westbound. This is a reduction from the current flight time of over 22 hours, including lengthy layovers,” said Mikosz.
Two Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s each with capacity of 234 passengers (30 premier world and 204 economy class) with a crew of four pilots and 12 attendants will ply the route. Indications of the direct flights could be allowed came to light in February last year when Kenya was granted Category One status after officials from the US Federal Aviation Administration gave approval for non-stop direct flights between the two countries.
Then the US Department of Transportation issued the permit for direct flights on September 5, 2017. What was pending was approval of the Air Service Licence and Air Operation Licence from the US authorities which has been granted. The announcement cements Kenya as a top investment hub in East Africa and firmly positions JKIA as the region’s aviation hub.
With more than 40 American multinationals located in Nairobi and many more across Africa, the launch of daily flights is expected to further spur trade between America and Africa.
American firms with a deep presence include IBM, Coca-Cola, Google, Microsoft and Cisco. Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) chief executive officer, Dr Betty Radier, welcomed the development saying anticipation is high the number of tourists visiting Kenya from the US will grow.
“The flights will substantially boost Kenya’s global profile as a tourism destination as they will provide a shorter, quicker and more affordable connection for tourists and business,” she said. US is currently Kenya’s top tourism source market, commanding a market share of 12.2 percent of total arrivals to Kenya as at October 2017.
Also expected to reap from the flights include horticulture and flower exporters and manufacturers, especially textile exporters eligible to export to the US under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) terms.
The US route completes an essential piece on KQ network which flies to various Africa, Europe, Middle-East, Indian sub-continent and Asia destinations “It fits within our strategy to attract corporate and high-end tourism traffic from the world to Kenya and Africa.
We are honoured to contribute to the economic growth of Kenya and East Africa,” said Sebastian adding the route would increase the carrier’s revenue by 10 per cent. KQ’s entry into the US comes at a time when the airline is implementing a turnaround strategy,with restructuring of its balance sheet aimed at keeping it flying.
The firm recently announced a Sh3.8 billion half-year net loss for the business but hopes various initiatives will return it to profitability. Mikosz revealed the carrier will continue to modernise its fleet though its 32 aircraft are some of the youngest in Africa.