After 10 years of collaboration, Kenya finally landed the deal for direct flight to the United States. Kenya Airways will commence daily flights between Nairobi and New York in October, which is set to benefit travellers in the entire region in terms of reduced flight ours.
That the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport has been granted Category One status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), is an indication that a lot has been achieved in terms of security.
Despite being an aviation hub in the region, Kenya remains a major target of the Somalia militia Al Shabaab and the direct flight deal is like a vote of confidence in the country’s improved security, at least its airspace in general.
Talks between Kenya and the US for a direct flight started in 2009. Delta Airlines even contemplated starting a direct flight in 2014. However, a warning by FAA that JKIA and Moi International Airport in Mombasa could be hit using man-portable air defence systems, led Delta Airlines to jettison the plan.
Since then, the US has been working closely with Kenya to improve security at JKIA, Moi and Wilson airports. Modern security equipment have been secured through America’s Safe Skies for Africa programme.
Besides cutting down the journey between Kenya and the US by about five hours, the direct flights will see Kenya receive more American tourists, above the current 100,000 per year— a much needed boost to its economy.
Kenya Airways is also set to create about 150 direct and indirect new jobs once the direct flight picks up.
However, Kenya must continue to raise the bar in terms of security. Instances of terrorist attacks in main Kenyan cities, even if not at the airport, could still have a negative impact on safety perceptions.
A lot needs to be done for orderly and secure access to JKIA. The various agencies are yet to find a formula for working together in a manner that would ensure security at every level.
For example, congestion at both departure and arrival termini due to slow immigration procedures exposes the airport to security breaches and must be addressed urgently.
The Immigration Department must find new ways of injecting efficiency into all its operations at JKIA. The operations of taxis and tour vans at the JKIA should also be streamlined to improve security and order.
It is encouraging that Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia has assured the country that operations at JKIA will over the next 100 days undergo major changes as the country gears for the inaugural direct flights to the US.
The changes currently under way are meant to improve security, efficiency and order at the JKIA to the standards found in the US international airports.
However, the authorities should also be sensitive to the needs of ordinary Kenyans while implementing the new security measures, because JKIA is also a major attraction to domestic tourists, especially school children. It should also take into account that a number of Kenyans do business with JKIA.