Kenya's national carrier now joins elite global airlines with a landing slot at the prestigious JFK Airport, making it the fifth sub-Saharan Africa country to fly directly to the US after South Africa, Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Ghana and Nigeria.
KQ joins the likes of Singapore Airlines (SQ), who recently launched an inaugural 19-hour non-stop flight from Singapore to New York on the new Airbus A350-900 ultra long-range jet. SQ’s flight is now considered the longest commercial flight in the world.
KQ’s clearance to earn a take-off slot at JFK Airport is no mean fete. In aviation terms, a landing or take-off slot is a right granted by an airport to a slot holder to schedule a landing or departure for a specified time.
The slot is allocated in line with guidelines set by the International Air Transport Association’s Worldwide Airport Slots Group.
In February, upon assessment, testing and auditing, JKIA was granted category one status by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to commence direct flights from Nairobi to New York City.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma acknowledged the behind-the-scenes efforts and hard work that went into making this process a success.
This development in both countries aviation space has brought into sharp focus discussions on how Kenya and Africa will benefit from direct flights, with key areas for Kenya being trade, tourism and diaspora remittances.
Africa will have a keen eye on the impact of direct flights in opening up her skies in line with the Yamoussoukro Declaration.
It will link Africa in general and Kenya specifically to the West Indian Coast and the Western hemisphere: The Americas, parts of Eurasia, Russia, Oceania and Antarctica.
The direct flights are expected to help grow trade ties and volumes between Kenya and the US thereby augmenting efforts by government to reduce the existing trade imbalance in favour of the US.
According to trade statistics from the US Census Bureau, aggregate trade between US and Kenya in 2017 amounted to Ksh102.2 billion ($1 billion), with US exports to Kenya totalling Ksh57.2 billion ($572 million) while Kenya’s exports to the US amounted to Ksh45 billion ($450 million).
With the Nairobi-New York direct flights, the flow of goods and services between the two countries is expected to increase by nearly 25 per cent per year.
More importantly, Kenya has the opportunity to increase access of its goods to the American market and reap the benefits of African Growth Opportunity Act, which accords duty-free exports for selected products.
As trade grows, there will be more foreign exchange earnings and technological transfer that will create jobs.