There have been no direct flights between the U.S. and Kenya since the late 1980s, but that could change as early as May since Kenya has passed most audit requirements to meet international aviation standards, Quartz reported.
Direct flights to the U.S. are expected to help Kenya’s ailing tourism industry, which hasn’t recovered from al-Shabaab attacks. Direct flights will also attract investors to East Africa’s largest economy, said Aly Khan Satchu, a financial analyst in Nairobi.
Just four sub-Saharan African countries meet the standards and are classified under the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA’s) International Aviation Safety Assessment program, according to Quartz. These include Cabo Verde, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa.
When U.S. President Barack Obama visited Kenya in July, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said he wanted to boost exports to the U.S. and see more U.S. tourists in Kenya. Direct flights were announced as one way of doing that, Reuters reported.
“We anticipate that we shall commence direct flights to the U.S.A. by May 2016, having as of now cleared almost all aviation audit issues,” said Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, according to a report in The Nation.
Current FAA rules require passengers to connect through countries whose civil aviation authorities have been approved. U.S. traffic usually transits through hubs such as Dubai and Amsterdam, BusinessDayLive reports. This can add hours and layovers to travel time.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority tried for years to pass audits by U.S. aviation officials so that Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, built in the 1970s, could host nonstop flights between the two countries. U.S. airline Delta also tried but failed to get approval.
Several airlines are keen to offer direct flights between Kenya and the U.S., Macharia said. Delta Airlines previously set a launch date for flights but cancelled due to security concerns, BusinessDayLive reports. Kenya Airways also plans to offer direct flights.
After failing the audit twice, Kenya spent $62 million upgrading Jomo Kenyatta Airport and addressing security issues such as the ability to separate arriving and departing passengers and the presence of buildings in the flight path of planes.
The Kenyan diaspora is an important market for Kenya, Quartz reported. About 102,000 Kenyan immigrants and their families live in the U.S., and most have the income to travel home. Their median household income is $11,000 above the national median, according to a June report by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Aspen Institute.
Jomo Kenyatta Airport scored 88 percent on the International Civil Aviation Organisation assessment in September. A score of 80 was needed to earn the FAA’s Category 1 status.
The airport failed the same assessment in 2013, but has since improved security, Macharia said.
Kenya’s main airport was built to handle 2.5-million passengers a year but now handles 6-million passengers a year, Reuters reported. A new terminal opened two years ago and a second one is due to open soon.
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