Nairobi prepares legislation to begin direct flights to Washington

Saturday July 30 2016


A Bill whose passage is expected to pave the way for direct flights between Kenya and the United States of America will be tabled in parliament in August.

Direct flights between the two countries are expected to bolster trade by $1.8 billion, with the fresh produce, textiles, handicraft and tourism sectors among the major beneficiaries.

Parliamentary Transport Committee chairman Maina Kamanda told The EastAfrican that the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2015 had been passed by the committee and forwarded to the Leader of Majority Aden Duale for processing.

“The House Transport Committee passed the amendment with minimal changes. We expect the leader of the Majority to present it to parliament in a week or two,” Mr Kamanda said.

The Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2015 seeks to integrate Kenya’s aviation laws with international standards.

This includes the establishment and realignment of an aviation tribunal, enhanced staff capacity especially of aviation inspectors, and amendments to allow Kenyan-registered aircraft to be similarly regulated in other nations.

Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia had earlier said the government had completed “almost all” relevant audit requirements by the US aviation authorities and were waiting for parliament to pass the Bill.

“With only one remaining hurdle of having the amended Civil Aviation Bill go through parliament, we will soon fly direct to the United States,” said Mr Macharia.

For direct flights to be granted, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has to achieve a Category 1 status, and score more than 80 per cent during an annual assessment by International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Kenya has tried twice and failed, scoring 66 per cent and 78.42 in 2013 and 2014 respectively. Last September, JKIA scored 88 per cent, inching it closer to passing the FAA test.

Among the other requirements before direct flights start, the US aviation officials have asked Kenya to separate the arrival and departure terminals, clear the flight path and fence off the airport.

The second-class status of JKIA means passengers flying from Kenya to the US have to transit through Europe, the Middle East or any of the four African countries whose airports have achieved the “Category 1” status. These are South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, and Nigeria.

This means Kenya pays high insurance premiums for aircraft and high leasing costs for aircraft.

This comes as the country is about to start direct flights to Israel and Morocco. The direct flights from Nairobi to Tel Aviv in Israel are expected to start in December with a formal announcement this month after the two nations agreed to open the air transport corridor.

This follows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Nairobi early in July during which he pledged to President Uhuru Kenyatta to tighten ties with Kenya in security, agriculture and trade.

“The two leaders welcomed the announcement by ARKIA Airlines that it will start direct flights from Nairobi to Tel Aviv in August 2016,” said Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohamed.

Passengers travelling to Israel currently have to fly via Ethiopia leading to loss of man hours.

Direct flights between Nairobi and Tel Aviv, which take approximately five hours had been stopped in 2003 after an attack on Israeli interests in Mombasa.

Direct flights to Tel Aviv will help re-balance Kenya’s trade with Israel which was lopsided on a ratio of 1 to 9 with Kenya importing electronic and security equipment from the Jewish State.

Morocco is also set to launch direct flights between Nairobi and Casablanca which will significantly reduce the cost and distance of travel between the cities and boost trade which is currently valued at $3 million in Morocco’s favour.

Travellers to the North African country are currently forced go through Dubai, Doha, Amsterdam or Paris, a longer and costlier journey.

Kenya’s exports to Morocco include jute, dyeing and tanning extracts and fruit juices. Its imports are fertiliser, synthetic fibres for spinning, perfumes and cosmetics, drugs, printing and bookbinding machinery.

Chinese China Southern Airlines made its inaugural direct flight between Nairobi and Guangzhou last year.

In 2015, there were 58 routes connecting Kenya to the rest of the world, 10 of these routes connect Kenya to cities with over 10 million people.