Kenya Airways will operate daily direct flights to North America starting this October, unlike other airlines that use onward feed hubs.
The Kenya Airways chief commercial officer, Vincent Coste, spoke to Allan Olingo on the viability of the new route.
With Africa-Europe remaining the most lucrative route to travel to the US for most Africans, how is Kenya Airways positioning itself to be competitive?
KQ will operate daily non-stop flights to JFK. This is a unique product not offered by anyone else therefore giving us a competitive advantage. We will focus on our core segments (corporate and premium leisure). We have already started working on commercial structures to ensure we are well positioned to serve our guests.
Data from both the African Airlines Association (AFRAA) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA) shows that the Africa-North America market has the lowest revenue per kilometre (RPK). What measures have you put in place to ensure that this route breaks even for the airline?
A daily flight offers more flexibility to customers hence it is the best product for the market. We are targeting the corporate and premium leisure market. We are best placed to offer Kenya as a corporate/leisure destination, and more connection points to East Africa through our Nairobi hub.
Many travellers to North America from the continent prefer Middle East carriers (Airbus A340/380) that offer comfortable economy cabins to ease long flights at no extra cost. How will Kenya Airways choice of aircraft (Dreamliner) fare in terms of comfort?
The KQ Dreamliner has already proved itself from its award winning product. By reducing flight time from the US to East Africa by about seven hours through its non-stop flight, KQ will offer a competitive service. The fact that customers will be backtracking to the Middle East puts us at an advantage for those looking at saving time.
The cargo market to North America from the region has been dominated by Ethiopian Airlines through the Addis Ababa hub, with flower and tea exports making up a large share of this business. How will Kenya Airways get a share of this cargo market given that New York’s JFK Airport is one of the two largest entry points for African exports to North America?
Based on the maximum payload of two tonnes outbound from Nairobi and seven tonnes from JFK, the sales approach will focus on niche cargo. Daily flights are a natural attraction for express business. Dense perishable product segments will be a secondary tier after niche segments are maximised.
The move to fly to the US is meant to elevate Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s (JKIA) status as a regional hub and a key gateway into East and Central Africa. How will Kenya Airways feed connections from other parts of Africa into the direct flight to North America?
KQ will offer destinations in Kenya, East Africa, and the Vanilla Islands (an affiliation of the island nations Seychelles, Madagascar, Réunion, Mauritius, Comoros, Mayotte and Maldives in the Indian Ocean). We have an excellent network in East, Central and southern Africa, which includes premium leisure destinations such as Cape Town, Kilimanjaro, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zanzibar.
Has KQ received support from players like Kenya Airports Authority to ensure that connections, especially for passengers doing layovers in Nairobi before taking the direct flight to the US, are worth the while?
Kenya Airports Authority is a key player in supporting KQ to offer an excellent experience through its JKIA hub. The improvement of KQ’s dedicated Terminal 1A services from check-in, immigration, security, duty-free shopping, lounges and other amenities create a world class experience for our customers.
KQ’s schedule with late evening departures from Nairobi and morning departures from the US ensure a same-day connection to our vast Africa network hence reducing the possibility of long layovers.