NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 2 – The United States government has indicated its commitment to grant Kenya the green light to launch direct flights to America possibly in a couple of months, provided the upgrades at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) are done according to international standards.
US Ambassador to Kenya Scott Gration said on Monday that once JKIA is certified as a ‘Category 1′ air field by the International Civil Aviation Organisation and Federal Aviation Administration which is a requirement for all airports handling flights operating in and out of America, then direct services between Kenya and the US can commence.
“In terms of terminal completion and other things, it will be at least another 180 days before that happens. Things may slip as they often do but we are pushing to make sure that things happen as soon as possible,” the envoy said.
Plans to launch the direct flights have been on the cards since 2007 but have not materialised largely due to security concerns by the US government.
In 2009, US homeland security officials declined to give Delta Airlines the approval to operate flights between JKIA and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, via Dakar, Senegal citing ‘security vulnerabilities’ in Nairobi.
The indefinite suspension of the inaugural flight, which had been scheduled for June 3, 2009 nearly caused a diplomatic tiff between the two governments, as Nairobi protested that it had not been informed of the decision to cancel the flights.
Negotiations have since resumed although they have been hinged on the capacity and ability of Kenya’s main airport to handle direct flights to and from the US. The government hopes to have this status attained by August this year.
If achieved, the service will afford the two countries the opportunity to enhance their commercial ties particularly in the trade and tourism sectors.
“We believe that there is a tremendous market in the United States for everything including green beans, flowers and we believe direct flights would help to bring investments to Kenya. We also believe that Kenya is on the cusp of tremendous growth and there are many companies that want to invest here.” he stressed.
Some of those companies include American multinational aerospace and General Electric (GE) which has already opened its Africa headquarters in Nairobi.
The conglomerate is also extending its operations from energy to aviation with the announcement that it had been picked by national carrier Kenya Airways to supply the engines for nine Boeing 787 Dreamliners that it hopes to take delivery of beginning 2014 at a cost of USD380 million.
The 19 GE-nx-1B engines deliver 15 percent fuel efficiency and come with lower maintenance costs.
Speaking while signing the deal with GE, KQ Chief Executive Officer Titus Naikuni enthused that they would see a significant reduction in their fuel bill in the next few years that would be reflected into their bottom line and enable them to offer competitive rates.
Fuel accounts for about 40 percent of the airline’s direct costs.
“The engines are bigger, quieter and more efficient than the Boeing 767 engines; have reduced fuel burn and longer periods on the wing between overhauls. This means the Dreamliner will come with lower maintenance costs and therefore ability to be flying longer,” Naikuni added.
The delivery will bring the share of engines supplied by GE to 56 percent in the next five years up from the current 42 percent.
The two companies hope to further reinforce their partnership by incorporating skills development on how to operate and maintain the engines.
“We will help KQ train its engineers and technicians to be able to work on the maintenance aspects of the engine and also we will cooperate at the higher level with the Pride Center for training of managers and leaders of Kenya Airways,” disclosed General Electric Aviation’s Vice President Sales, Middle East and Africa Isam Moursy.