The long winding road Kenya Airways walked to be granted direct flights to US

When former US president Barack Obama’s visited Kenya in 2015 his brief vague comment that direct flights between the US and Kenya might soon resume sent Kenyan aviation stakeholders into an early celebration.

Kenya Airways announced on Thursday it had been granted the green light to fly non-stop from Nairobi to New York and has  started selling tickets for the inaugural flight which is scheduled for October 28th this year.

“This is an exciting moment for us. It fits within our strategy to attract corporate and high-end tourism traffic from the world to Kenya and Africa. We are honored to contribute to the economic growth of Kenya and East Africa.” said Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and CEO Sebastian Mikosz.

The announcement marked the end of a long process for the airline order to become the first airline to offer non-stop flights between East Africa and the United States of America.

Kenya first applied to fly directly to US in 2013 and then in April 2015 and failed both times.

“During the last audit in April we came very close to the 80 per cent mark (required for direct flights to begin). We expect to meet all requirements after the final audit in October,” Samuel Poghisio, Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) board chairman, at the time said.

The reasons it failed aren’t public and the presence of the al-Shabaab militia in Kenya isn’t necessarily one of them but failure to properly separate departing from arriving passengers, buildings in the flight paths and a lack of fencing around the airport are some of the reasons US regulators have cited in the past.

“There are certain conditions for us to have direct flights to the US. We will have a dry run of the airport security in May and in June the US agents will come to inspect it,” said Transport secretary then Michael Kamau in 2014.

“We hope by the end of the year we will have Category One.”

The Kenyan government then began executing some of the recommendations  to enhance security, including construction of a new terminal, separation of arrival and departure passengers, clearing the flight path and fencing off the airport and demolishing buildings obstructing aircraft flight paths

In addition, the government invested $1.3million (Sh1.3 billion) in new security equipment  installed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

When former US president Barack Obama’s visited Kenya in 2015, his comment that direct flights between the US and Kenya might soon resume sent Kenyan aviation stakeholders into an early and premature celebration.

There were fears however that the direct flights will be in jeopardy, once Trump was sworn into office in January and transport officials went out of their way to allay these fears.

On February 23, 2017, Kenya was finally granted Category One status by officials from America’s Federal Aviation Administration paving way for non-stop direct flights between the two countries.

Before then, due to JKIA's second-class status travelers between Kenya and the US currently had to transit through places like London, Istanbul, Dubai, and Addis Ababa— an arduous, lengthy trip with multi-hour layovers.

This set the stage for Kenya Airways and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to begin going through the final regulatory hurdles before the take-off of the first flight from Nairobi to the United States.

In June 2017, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia said that officials from the United States would come to Kenya in October to carry out the final audit of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

This is after the US team postponed the exercise in June to allow the country to conduct its general elections in August of that year.

Even so, more surprises were on the way and on September 1st the Supreme Court nullified the presidential elections and ordered fresh elections in October throwing spanner into the works.

Kenya remained upbeat and Mr. Macharia indicated that the inspection was  still on and would be conducted in the next two weeks, probably after the October 26th fresh presidential election.

‘’We are expecting them at the tail of this month or early November. Our teams at the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and Kenya Airport Authority have prepared adequately for the exercise,’’ said Macharia.

Kenya was set to know its fate on the direct flights to the US before Christmas following completion of the final audit by the American transport agency.

“The results of this audit will be out in six weeks’ time and we expect to have performed well,” a confident Mr Macharia told a news conference.

This is after US Transportation Security Administration officials were in the country for a four-day second and final audit of the facility.

Five years later after walking miles and jumping numerous hurdles Kenya Airways' dream to fly directly to the US has finally come true.


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