A dark cloud is hanging over the East African skies in a standoff between Kenya Airways and the Tanzanian aviation authorities, after both neighboring states opened up their skies with daunted flying measures.
Tanzania had opened its skies at the end of May, while Kenya took the same step early this month, but flights between the two neighbors failed to materialize after Kenyan authorities deleted Tanzania from the list of COVID-19-safe countries whose citizens were qualified to travel to Kenya.
Responding to Kenya’s decision, Tanzania banned Kenya Airways flights from entering its airspace pending further notice.
The standoff between Kenya Airways and Tanzanian authorities have so far frustrated the East African regional tourist business community, taking a note of the magnitude of tourist volume between the two neighbors.
The Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) on July 30 cancelled plans to allow Kenya Airways to resume flights, citing the decision by Kenya to exclude Tanzania from the list of countries whose nationals would be allowed entry under revised coronavirus restrictions.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director general Gilbert Kibe said they are waiting for a word from Tanzania, but expressed optimism that the outcome will be positive.
After the meeting of the two aviation regulators, Kenya was told to wait for response from Tanzania.
The TCAA initially allowed KQ to resume scheduled services to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
Kenyan Transport minister James Macharia told the Kenyan media early this month that the Tanzanian aviation regulator had lifted the ban and allowed the Kenyan national carrier to resume flights early on August, but the ban remained in place.
Kenya Airways resumed international flights on August 1, heading to about 30 destinations for the first time since the routes were suspended in March due to COVID-19.
Tanzania is one of the more profitable routes for Kenya Airways with its frequent flights to key Tanzanian business and tourist cities including the Indian Ocean’s tourist island of Zanzibar.
Kenya Airways had resumed domestic flights in mid-July and international flights in August.
The standoff between Kenya and Tanzania was observed soon after the outbreak of the pandemic in East Africa, when Kenya blocked Tanzanian truck drivers from entering its territory, fearing they would spread the disease.
Tanzanian authorities have taken a controversially relaxed approach to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic then opened its entire borders two months ago.
East African Community Business Council (EABC) weighed into the issue, urging Kenya and Tanzania to fast-track the unconditional reopening of the airspace.
“EABC urges, the East African Community (EAC) Partner States to prioritize then fast-track the unconditional re-opening of regional air transport services and agree on an EAC coordinated approach on the opening of the regional aviation sector,” said the EABC chief executive, Peter Mathuki.
Dr Mathuki said re-opening of regional air transport services will integrate logistics value chains for increased exports of fresh produce and regional tourism and enable service providers to tap into the larger EAC market.