A lot has happened within the first few weeks of this year as far as air travel is concerned offering a rare glimpse into what is set to be a good year for the industry in Kenya. The recent launch by Kenya Airways of direct flights between Nairobi and New York was a culmination of a series of launches by airlines of new routes both domestic and international.
Buoyed by increased business during the festive season, several airlines have this month announced increased flights on their current routes as well as completely new routes. Jambojet set the ball rolling by announcing that it was increasing its flights to Mombasa, Kisumu, Ukunda and Eldoret. Jambojet cites increased demand and its acquisition of new aircrafts as the reason behind its expansion.
In the same week Jambojet was announcing its additional flights, another local low-cost carrier Fly-Sax said it was increasing its frequency on the Mombasa route to twice daily to meet demand from traders and tourists. Not to be left behind, yet another little known airline, Freedom Airline launched a commercial flight on the Nairobi-Garissa route targeting air travellers especially business owners and state officials. The airline official was quoted as having said that big numbers of passengers had turned up to travel on the inaugural flight and he was optimistic that the number would grow.
A new entrant, Silverstone Air, is set to commence direct flights from Wilson Airport to Lodwar in Mid-January barely six months after they entered the Kenyan market with daily flights to Kisumu and Ukunda. The airline has announced plans to introduce direct flights between Kisumu and Mombasa and also launch flights to Migori and Lamu.
The flurry of activities in the sky is not only limited to the domestic market. Italian carrier Alitalia is set to return to JKIA with four scheduled flights a week starting from 28 March 2018. A day later, the inaugural Air France flight from Charles De Gaulle in Paris will make its maiden flight into Nairobi after an eighteen year hiatus. It should be noted that last year, the Middle East carrier, Qatar Airways announced that Mombasa was one of the new 12 routes they were launching in 2018. Qatar will be joining other international carriers that fly directly into and out of Mombasa hoping to tap into growing demand on that route. Similarly, Air India is expected to return to the Kenyan airspace this year with daily flights between New Delhi and Nairobi.
There is no doubt that the Kenya airspace is once again becoming more attractive to both local and international carriers seeking to grow their pie in a shrinking global market characterized by cut throat competition. This can be attributed to a number of factors that have placed Kenya in a pole position as an emerging potential market for air travel. Over the years, the government has invested heavily in expanding and improving the aviation infrastructure across the country. JKIA is obviously reaping the benefits of the recent expansion programme that has increased its annual capacity to 7.5 million passengers. Focus now needs to shift to improving other facilities across the country that are in dire need of expansion.
Another factor that has significantly contributed to the uptake of air travel in the country is the emergence of low cost carriers such as Jambojet, Fly540, Silverstone Air, Fly-Sax, Safarilink among others that continue to haul first time travellers into the sky. Jambojet alone flies between 45,000 and 50,000 passengers a month! We are likely to see new players come into the market as more Kenyans seek to cut the precious travel time in pursuit of business and tourism. The clamor by various county governments to establish airstrips in their respective counties may sooner than later lead to an emergence of county air services.
The announcement by President Uhuru Kenyatta during his last year Independence Day address to the nation that the government was opening its borders to all Africans to obtain Visas on arrival can only have come as good news to the sector. The move is likely to lure more passenger traffic into Nairobi boosting our struggling tourism industry as well trade.
Certainly, the stars seem aligned in our favor and it is incumbent upon all stakeholders in the travel industry to take full advantage of the situation.
Chief Executive Officer
Kenya Association of Travel Agents (KATA)
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