By GERALD ANDAE
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Kenya’s decade-long journey towards achieving direct flights between Nairobi and New York has finally been achieved, with the inaugural Kenya Airways flight expected to touch down in the US Monday, marking a major milestone in the country’s aviation industry.
The development, which makes Kenya the eighth country on the continent and the first in East Africa to operate direct flights to the US, is seen as a boost to the country’s economy, with focus on trade and tourism.
In Africa, only Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa have direct flights to the US.
The 16-hour flight cuts the long times passengers have had to endure through transit airports in different continents.
“This has come at the right time for us as we are no longer going to endure the challenges of delay that comes with connecting flights to get home,” said Mr Elly Kemboi a Kenyan living in Ithaca, New York.
Mr Kemboi, however, says Kenya Airways should maintain low fares to attract more passengers who might opt to use other airlines because of the cost.
Direct flight to the US is good news to the horticulture industry, which has for long been eyeing to expand the share of the American market.
“The US is a huge opportunity for Kenya and indeed eastern Africa. The market demands are high in terms of volumes and consistency. As a strong player in the region, Kenya stands to benefit from the neighbours to ensure consistent supply all year round because of the direct flight,” says Ms Jane Ngige, chief executive of Kenya Horticulture Council.
“Fortunately Kenyan flowers have no market access challenges into the USA. It is quota and duty free. In addition, there are no requirements for Pest Risk Analysis (PRA),” she added.
Ms Ngige said Kenya’s hybrid and spray roses do not compete with the large, long stem roses from Ecuador and Columbia and this will give Kenya an edge in the US market.
She said direct flights will reduce freight costs to improve competitiveness. “Ethiopia flies direct to the US; farmers get subsidies, giving Kenya stiff competition. But subsidies are not sustainable in the long run.”
The new development will see expansion on other products such as vegetables, baby carrots, baby corn, French beans and snap peas, which have already undergone PRA and have been cleared for entry into the USA.
She said the greatest opportunities lies in Kenyans living and working in the States as they could be productive partners in marketing the country’s products based on their knowledge and understanding of the American terrain in terms of consumers’ trends and behaviour.
Freighters said direct flights between the two countries would immensely boost trade through lower charges.
Direct flights will save up to 20 per cent on cargo operation costs, making Kenya’s goods competitive in America, they said.
Freighters have had to make stopovers in Europe or the Middle East before proceeding to the US, compromising the quality of perishable goods.
The granting of International Aviation Safety Assessment (Category 1) in February, 2017, was the culmination of a long journey that started way back in 2010 by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.
The Category 1 is granted by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to States that have demonstrated effective implementation of International Civil Aviation (ICAO) Standards and Recommended Practices. Category 1, allows a state to establish (through its national airline or nominated carriers) direct flights to the USA.
“In the conduct of IASA audits, the FAA is guided by ICAO requirements, these requirements focus on areas of personnel licensing, operation of aircraft and airworthiness” said Mr Gilbert Kibe, the director-general of KCAA.
The requirements were aimed at assessing the Kenyan Civil Aviation oversight system to ensure that it is established and implemented in accordance with ICAO requirements and that it provides effective oversight on Kenyan operators to guarantee safety while operating in the US.
Throughout the process, FAA provided technical support to Kenya in facilitating skill and knowledge enhancement and also understanding of international requirements.