US-Kenya direct flights plan enters homestretch

The journey towards direct flights between Kenya and the US has reached the homestretch with the government opening up Jomo Kenyatta International airport for a final safety audit. Kenyans seeking to travel to the US for leisure and businessmen will, however, have to wait longer for exact flight dates, which are hinged on a scheduled audit of the airport’s compliance by American aviation authorities.

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has set July as its deadline for meeting all the conditions set by the US government for approval of direct flights between Nairobi and Washington. The authority will next month write a letter to Federal Aviation Administration requesting for a comprehensive review of the country’s preparation to handle the flights.


“We only have one or two items remaining known as critical elements and on these, we are on the last one, which our officers are currently working on,” said KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe. He said the airport has achieved a 90 per cent level of compliance on a long process that had numerous considerations including technical aspects, safety and security.

“There are challenges in complying because the standards expected are extremely high. It is the state of Kenya that will be given the category one status,” said Kibe. In two previous audits conducted in 2013 and 2014, Kenya scored 66 per cent and 78 per cent respectively.

Security concerns at JKIA have been a key hindrance to concluding the process. Upon meeting satisfactory levels of compliance, FAA will fly its audit team to award Kenya an International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) audit that would grant the airport the much-coveted category one status.

KCAA expressed confidence it will clinch the category one certification before year end but remained non-committal on real commencement date for direct flights between the two nations. “We are going to invite them (FAA) in July to do their final comprehensive review.

We should have completed final stages before we get an audit date on when they will come. From there, we will be at their mercy as far as the actual date will be,” said Kibe. The US wanted Kenya to separate passenger arrivals from departure terminals, clearance of flight paths and fencing off of the airport to boost security.

The tourism sector is set to be a major beneficiary of the developments with increased confidence on level of recovery and easing of insecurity in the country. “We have a lot of interest in direct Delta flights to Kenya but a lot of bureaucracy still hampers the process. The Civil Aviation Bill still needs some amendments,” said Tourism Cabinet secretary Najib Balala.