Regional airlines take fight to KQ’s door on US flights

Wednesday February 6 2019


Passengers onboard the inaugural Kenya Airways flight from Nairobi to New York. PHOTO | PSCU 

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Since Kenya Airways introduced the New York route last year, it has attracted tough competition from regional airlines which are eyeing a share of the lucrative American market. 

RwandAir is planning to launch direct flights to the US and is currently seeking approval from the relevant American body for Category One Status. Once it is allowed to fly to the US, the airline will directly compete with KQ for passengers. 

Ethiopian Airlines also plans to introduce three flights a week to the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York, adding to its flights to the Newark International Airport in New Jersey.

The Ethiopian Airlines said last week that it was restructuring its network, opening new destinations, adding frequencies and shifting gateways as it seeks to offer passengers travelling between Africa and the US “the best possible connectivity and the shortest routes”. 

The plans by Ethiopian Airlines and RwandAir are certain to give KQ a run for its money in its plans to popularise its Nairobi- New York non-stop flight in the region. 

And it is not just the US route that the Kenya Airways faces tough competition. After the national carrier announced that it would start flights to Israel, RwandAir also inked a deal with Tel-Aviv. 


RwandAir, which has been expanding its fleet in the recent days, intends to launch the Israel flights in the coming months, according a local media reports in Israel. 

“Rwanda’s national airline will start operating regular flights to and from Israel in the coming months after the two countries … signed a bilateral agreement as part of the Open Skies aviation reform,” reported the Times of Israel, a local media outlet.

The Kenya Airways was scheduled to start weekly flights to Tel Aviv in March this year but the plans appear to have been scuttled by political differences between Khartoum and Tel Aviv that have seen Sudan create air blockade on flights going or moving out of Israel. 

KQ officials were in Israel in June last year where they met with the Israeli Transportation minister Yisrael Katz to discuss the plan. 

KQ chairman Michael Joseph is, however, upbeat that the plan to fly to Israel is still on course and that they will embark as soon as the standoff is settled. 

“We are still on course, just waiting for the current issues to be settled between the two countries,” said Mr Joseph in a telephone interview. The airline has to secure permission from the Sudanese government to allow the airline overfly its airspace. 

In regard to competition, KQ told the Shipping last month that: “Just like any other airline, Kenya Airways experiences competition in most of its destinations and this is the nature of the business.” 

Regional airlines have been pushing for open skies policy to allow national carriers to move without restrictions to other countries, but this is yet to be achieved. This comes at a time when African nations are protecting their airlines from stiff competition, putting in doubt whether the dream of open sky policy will be achieved as States seem to be keen to protect their turf. 

Last year, Kenya refused to grant Ethiopian Airlines a new route in what was an apparent protection of Kenya Airways against one of the most successful airlines in the region. 

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) applied brakes on Ethiopian Airlines’ quest for a licence to operate scheduled passenger flights on the Johannesburg-Nairobi–Brussels route. 

According to the World Bank, Africa is home to 12 per cent of the world’s people, but it accounts for less than one per cent of the global air service market. 

Part of the reason for Africa’s under-served status, according the World Bank study, Open Skies for Africa – Implementing the Yamoussoukro Decision, is that many African countries restrict their air services markets to protect the share held by state-owned air carriers. 

Yamoussoukro Decision calls for, among others, full liberalisation of intra-African air transport services in terms of access, capacity, frequency, and tariffs, free exercise of first, second, third, fourth and fifth freedom rights for passenger and freight air services by eligible airlines an liberalised tariffs and fair competition 

Fifth freedom in aviation allows a non-national carriers to land in a state and take on traffic coming from or destined for a third state.