Kenya Airways is yet to be granted permission to fly to Tanzania a week after the government announced it had struck a deal with Dar es Salaam for resumption of flights.
The airline’s chief executive officer, Allan Kilavuka, said on Thursday they were still awaiting word from the government on when they will resume flights to Tanzania, suggesting that negotiations between the two neighbouring countries have not been concluded.
“On Tanzanian we have not yet resumed, we are waiting for government (of Kenya) to confirm,” Mr Kilavuka told the Business Daily.
The Tanzanian Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) had last Friday cancelled plans to allow Kenya Airways to resume flights citing the decision by Nairobi to exclude Tanzania from the list of countries whose nationals would be allowed entry under revised coronavirus restrictions.
But Kenyan Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia announced the next day that the Tanzanian aviation regulator had lifted the ban and allowed the national carrier to resume flights last Sunday.
Kenya Airways resumed international flights last Saturday, heading to about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to the coronavirus.
Tanzania is one of the critical routes for Kenya Airways and the national carrier had planned two daily flights to Dar es Salaam and three weekly flights to the resort city of Zanzibar.
Kenya’s negotiations with Tanzanian are being spearheaded by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general, Gilbert Kibe, who told this paper that Nairobi was awaiting the decision of Dar es Salaam.
“We have been in communication and awaiting the outcome,” Mr Kibe said without disclosing details.
This is in sharp contrast to the optimistic tone of Mr Macharia last Saturday on the flights.
“We managed to clear the issues that we had,” Mr Macharia said in a televised briefing.
“We never stopped those flights, they never stopped our flights, and this very, very minor issue has been sorted out. And we believe that if not today, by tomorrow we shall find Kenya Airways flying again.”
Kenya Airways resumed domestic flights in mid-July and targeted resumption of international flights on August as part of a recovery plan after losing Sh10 billion in the six months to June.
The national carrier had received approval from the TCAA on July 30 to resume Tanzania flights in August.
Kenya Airways said for the rest of the year the airline expected demand to remain below 50 per cent of capacity, but it would increase flight frequencies depending on demand.
The airline was struggling long before the coronavirus outbreak, posting 2019 losses of almost Sh13 billion.
The tensions between Kenya and Tanzania erupted soon after the outbreak of the pandemic in East Africa, when Kenya blocked Tanzanian truck drivers from entering the country, fearing they would spread the disease.
Tanzanian authorities have taken a controversially relaxed approach to tackling the coronavirus pandemic and began reopening the country two months ago.
President John Magufuli’s refusal to impose lockdowns or physical distancing measures, and to halt the release of figures on infections since late April, has made him a regional outlier and caused concern among Tanzania’s neighbours and the World Health Organisation.
Mr Magufuli declared Tanzania free of coronavirus in June, thanking God and the prayers of citizens for what he said was the defeat of the pandemic.
East African Community Business Council (EABC) weighed into the issue, urging Kenya and Tanzania to fast track the unconditional reopening of the airspace.
“EABC urges, the East African Community (EAC) Partner States to prioritise and fast-track the unconditional re-opening of regional air transport services and agree on an EAC coordinated approach on the opening of the regional aviation sector,” said the EABC chief executive, Peter Mathuki.
Dr Mathuki said re-opening of regional air transport services will integrate logistics value chains for increased exports of fresh produce and regional tourism and enable service providers to tap into the larger EAC market.
Kenya has so far confirmed 24,411 coronavirus cases and 399 related deaths.