US lauds Kenya on air safety but still no clearance for direct flights

Saturday October 1 2016

A Kenya Airways aircraft at JKIA, Nairobi.

A Kenya Airways aircraft at JKIA, Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 


The US Department of Transportation (DOT) Thursday praised Kenya's “significant progress” in ensuring civil aviation safety but did not commit to approving direct flights between the two countries.

“The US Federal Aviation Administration and the Kenyan Civil Aviation Authority have been in close collaboration as Kenya has marched towards full compliance with international standards,” a DOT spokesperson said.

“They will remain in close touch and mutually determine next steps.”

The official's comments came in response to a Nation query regarding Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia's recent claim that Kenya has met all requirements for the start of direct flights between Nairobi and the US.

Kenyan officials have repeatedly suggested during the past year that direct air links with the US would soon be established. But Washington has not publicly committed to allowing airlines to fly the route.

Substantial gains for Kenyan businesses and the country's tourism industry are expected if passengers and cargo can move more expeditiously to and from the US with financially troubled Kenya Airways likely to reap the benefits.

Direct flights are not the same as non-stop flights.

A direct flight makes a scheduled stop at an intermediate airport between its point of origin and its final destination. Passengers generally remain on the same plane, however, saving time spent in transit.

Delta Airlines

Delta Airlines came close in 2009 to inaugurating direct service between Atlanta and Nairobi, with a stop in Dakar, Senegal.

US aviation officials, however, refused to clear the service one day prior to its scheduled start.

Specific reasons for the abrupt cancellation were not provided, with US authorities citing general concerns regarding “security vulnerabilities in and around Nairobi.”

Kenyan officials reacted angrily at the time to the last-minute US decision.

Moses Wetang'ula, who was serving as foreign minister in 2009, summoned then-US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger to his office to express Kenya's displeasure.