Going by regional developments in the aviation circles, this year has started out well for the air traveller.
In case you missed it Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport, which had been undergoing expansion, has announced that the project will soon be completed, increasing its passenger handling capacity threefold.
The airport handles nine million passengers annually. If you are a regular at Bole, you can only hope that the airport’s expansion to handle 22 million passengers annually has taken care of the much-needed terminal building amenities that are currently stretched.
The Ethiopian government wants work completed ahead of the AU Summit later this month, where the Single African Air Transport Market will be launched.
Not to be left behind, Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) has commissioned expansion work to handle up to 10 million passengers annually.
It is increasing its transit capabilities through airport hotels and the construction of a second runway. JKIA handles seven million passengers annually, and is projected to manage about 17 million passengers every year by 2020.
The other development in the region worthy of note is the announcement by Kenya Airways that it will begin direct flights to John F Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York this October.
At about 15 hours, this will be the longest flight for the airline and a much-needed addition from East Africa to the US.
Currently serving the US from the region is Ethiopian Airlines, with a direct flight from Addis Ababa to Dulles International Airport in Washington DC, which is about an hour and a half flying time from JFK.
Ethiopian also has flights to other parts of the US; Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey and Los Angeles International Airport in California.
By 2019, there may be the option to fly to JFK from Kigali International Airport (KIA) with RwandAir. Rwanda and the US are in top gear, with the Federal Aviation Administration having completed initial inspections at KIA.
Clearly, the regional traveller will be spoilt for choice. But even more important to these airlines is that the corporate and leisure traveller from the US into the region has options.
One question many people ask is whether there will be a significant reduction in fares to the US as the travel time will be shorter.
On the contrary, airlines generally charge more for a direct flight than a connecting flight.
Hence, although Kenya Airways is advertising special launch rates in the region of $800 for a return ticket, a few months after the inaugural flight fares could go up by 50 per cent.
For the corporate traveller and those with tight schedules this daily flight will be invaluable. With the full understanding of this demographic, there are likely to be few cheap seats on this flight.
Cost alone, though key, is not the only determining factor when it comes to choice of a flight: Connecting time and transit amenities also determine what airline a traveller will choose to fly.
Those travelling on leisure and more flexible schedules are bound to shy away from the direct flight if it is highly priced.
Competing airlines are likely to carry passengers from Nairobi to their transit hubs at comparably low rates as they price their US flights to be under the Kenya Airways fare.
While there may not be serious competition from airlines like Air France and KLM as they are in the Sky Team Alliance as is Kenya Airways, for the pennywise traveller to the US, keeping an eye on the offers from the Middle East airlines could be worth your time.
Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, South African Airways and Ethiopian Airlines — of the Star Alliance — who all carry significant East African traffic to and from the US via their hubs are likely to come up with special offers.
The frequent flyer on this route will now have more options and better fares, and not necessarily from the direct flights. As you embark on this transatlantic journey, shop carefully for your flights and consider the connections from your point of entry to the US to your final destination.
Hope to see you on the inaugural flight from Nairobi to New York with Kenya Airways.
Michael Otieno an aviation consultant and travel writer based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz E-mail: [email protected]