Direct flights to US position Kenya as regional hub

Saturday October 27 2018

Kenya Airways captain Koki Mutungi (right) is welcomed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport by dancers after delivering a B787, which will fly to the US. PHOTO | NMG

By The EastAfrican

East African travellers are eager for the start of direct flights to the United States of America by Kenya Airways, cutting the journey by close to seven hours.

In February 2017, Kenya was granted Category One status, paving the way for US Federal Aviation Administration officials to approve non-stop direct flights between Nairobi and New York.

In September, KQ was finally cleared to begin direct flights to the US after receiving the last Point of Departure confirmation, affirming that the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport meets the security standards of the American Transport Security administration.

KQ becomes the first airline to offer a non-stop flight from East Africa to the US, flying daily from Nairobi’s JKIA to New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport.

The flights boost Kenya’s standing as a regional commercial hub, with increased business opportunities, investments and tourists from the US for Kenya and the East African region.

By September, the airline said about 7,000 travellers had bought tickets for the maiden flight. Kenya expects to double the number of American tourists visiting the country. The country gets about 120,000 American tourists every year, making it the second biggest tourism source market after the United Kingdom.


Travellers from the region, who have had to depend on connections either in Middle East or Europe, now have something to smile about. The price of a ticket, the flight experience and choice of equipment will be the main selling points for KQ to win passengers over.

Its choice daily flights to against the industry preference for onward feed hubs, is being hailed as niche, and something that will endear it to customers.

Besides the region, KQ will serve the Vanila Islands (an affiliate of the island Seychelles, Madagascar, Réunion, Mauritius, Comoros, Mayotte and Maldives in the Indian Ocean) and other Africans.

KQ boasts an excellent network in East, Central and South Africa, which includes the key premium leisure destinations such as Cape Town, Arusha, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zanzibar.

The airline will be targeting the corporate and premium leisure market and is offering Kenya as a corporate and leisure destination and more points in East Africa through its Nairobi hub.

Data from the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority shows that over 60 per cent of the passenger traffic on that route will be Americans travelling to the continent, putting Nairobi as a central hub for American investment.

The latest data from World Travel Monitor shows that the US is currently one of the world’s best-performing outbound markets, with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation reports indicating that it is also the world’s second-largest tourism source market, after China.

This makes this route choice strategic, not just for Kenya but also the region, given that the tourism expenditure from the US increased by nine per cent to $13.5 billion in 2017, from 12.3 billion the previous year.

Kenya has sought direct flights to the US for over a decade, but JKIA’s longstanding second-class designation — before it was awarded the Category One status in 2017 — forced passengers to transit through Europe, the Middle East or the four African states — South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, and Nigeria, whose airports have the designation.

The KQ flight now will be the fastest connection from the region to New York, with 15 hours duration eastbound and 14 and a half hours westbound.