The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has achieved the Category One status that will allow for direct flights between Kenya and the US, bringing to an end the long search for express connection between the two countries.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has granted Nairobi the top status after carrying out a series of assessment audits in the country.
“Getting [the] Category One status for us is a major milestone in the growth and development of civil aviation in Kenya, East Africa and rest of Africa,” said Transport minister James Macharia.
“The granting of this status means that airline operators, both in Kenya and US, which have long desired to operate directly to or from the US, will now be allowed to carry on their operations,” he added.
In Africa, only Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa have direct flights to the US.
More compliance needed
Airline operators from Kenya have had to layover, mainly in Europe, before they can access the US airspace.
The direct flights, however, will only begin after certain processes —including technical compliance and commercial arrangements — are met.
“With Category One, there will be faster movement of goods and people between the two countries, with an eradication of any delay especially for horticultural produce from Kenya,” Mr Macharia said.
The Category One status is based on an FAA assessment of the safety oversight provided by Kenya Civil Aviation Authority. The status rating also shows Kenya's compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation(ICAO) standards.
To attain and maintain the top rating, a country must demonstrate compliance with the safety standards as adopted and contained in ICAO documents — a United Nations specialised agency for aviation that establishes international standards and recommended practices for aircraft operations and maintenance.
Kenya has been implementing a raft of recommendations given 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.
Freighters say 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 earlier 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.
“Flower and other horticultural produce are perishable commodities and having to go all the way to Europe then USA, reduces their quality by the time it gets to its final destination,” he said.
Mr Gadhia said direct flights will help in cutting down the number of days taken to export cargo from seven days currently to at least one day.
He points out that direct flights will also allow them to bring in more goods after delivering their cargo in the US.
Kenya largely imports medical engineering equipment, industrial products, aircraft engines and chemicals while exporting textiles and perishable products such as flowers and vegetables to America.