While on a visit to Kenya, discussions between Presidents Obama and President Kenyatta were also focusing on the establishment of direct if not nonstop flights between the two countries, something repeatedly attempted in the past but always fallen foul of security concerns and lack of CAT 1 approval of Kenya’s main airport by the American Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Both delegations agreed that the start of direct flights was desirable and would boost both trade and tourism, but these political expressions of will and intent require more than just polite applause once the communique is read out.
Previous articles here have highlighted the challenges Kenya faces vis-a-vis the required FAA audit before a Category 1 certification can be achieved. Strict separation of traffic streams, inbound and outbound, is just one of the major criteria which must be fulfilled, and the last audit, while reaching close to the pass mark, was still short by a few points. This triggered some frantic activity behind the scenes at the Kenya Airport Authority, in part driven by Kenya Airways’ desire to commence direct flights into the United States, now that the airline has the Boeing B787 Dreamliner on the fleet, which is capable of nonstop flights to the east coast of the US.
It is understood from usually well-informed sources that a number of measures have been taken to mitigate the shortcomings of past audits with the aim to cross the threshold set by the FAA and pass the next inspection, which is reportedly due in September.
While political will can fast-track such audits, the technical criteria and relevant boxes must still all be ticked if Kenya is indeed to launch flights from Nairobi to the US and in turn an American carrier be allowed to fly from a US gateway to Nairobi, as is permitted under the existing BASA, short for Bilateral Air Services Agreement.
Addis Ababa’s Bole International Airport has achieved Category 1 clearance as does Cairo’s International Airport, with among others, OR Tambo International in Johannesburg being another such facility cleared for nonstop and direct flights into the US. This alone is a major reason why Kenya is working frantically towards accomplishing this certification to facilitate in particular exports of flowers and fresh produce to the United States while in turn boosting visitor numbers from the US to Kenya and the region. Presently, travelers need to connect either via one of the European hub airports or travel with one of the main Gulf airlines, all of which connect to Nairobi on a daily and even double-daily basis.