President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday night presided over a historic milestone for Kenya's aviation sector when he flagged off the inaugural Kenya Airways (KQ) direct flight from Nairobi to New York. A jovial President Kenyatta led top Government officials and dignitaries in the short but highly significant ceremony to mark the start of a new journey for Kenya's national carrier.
The President flagged off a KQ Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner carrying 234 passengers from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport destined for New York's JFK International Airport. The long-haul flight will last 15 hours, reducing the journey by over 7 hours. Among the passengers on the maiden flight from Nairobi to New York were Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amb. Monica Juma and US Ambassador Robert Godec.
During the flagging off ceremony, President Kenyatta handed over the Kenyan flag to Amb. Juma while Amb. Godec was given the American flag by a US Embassy representative. Others on board the direct flight were Transport Principal Secretary Esther Koimett and Kenya Airways CEO Sebastian Mikosz. Also on the flight were two 26-year old innovators, Shirlene Nafula and Evans Wadongo who were handed their return tickets by State House Spokesperson Kanze Dena and Kenya Airways Head of Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Events Jacquie Muhati at State House Nairobi on October 19.
The flagging off ceremony was also attended by Deputy President William Ruto, Nairobi Governor Mike Mbuvi Sonko, Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Cabinet Secretaries Fred Matiang’i (Interior), Adan Mohamed (East African Community & Regional Development) Sicily Kariuki (Health), Margaret Kobia (Public Service), Amina Mohamed (Education), Rashid Echesa (Sports), Eugene Wamalwa (Devolution), Mwangi Kiunjuri (Agriculture) and Ukur Yattani (Labour).
The inaugural flight to New York is a major milestone for Kenya's aviation sector especially for the numerous economic opportunities in sectors such as tourism and trade. A direct air link with the United States will give Kenya increased access to the large US economy, the biggest in the world, as well as the entire North American region. JKIA is already one of Africa's busiest air transport hubs in Africa, and the launch of direct flights to New York is expected to elevate its importance and cement Nairobi's position as one of Africa's biggest economic movers.
Kenya Airways already serves at least 40 destinations in Africa alone and also flies to Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Sub Continent. The launch of the extra long haul flight is expected to attract more US corporations into the Kenyan market, to add to the more than 40 that have already set base in Nairobi as their Africa headquarters. The direct flight will also increase tourist traffic to Kenya with the government projecting that it will bring in more corporate and high-end tourists.
The wider Eastern and Central Africa region stands to gain economically from the latest milestone in Kenya's active aviation sector. President Kenyatta has been at the forefront in the sustained efforts that ensured direct flights between Kenya and the United States became a reality. Beginning with his first visit to the United States in August 2014 when he attended the US-Africa Leader's Summit, President Kenyatta has at all times prioritized Kenya Airways' direct access to the US.
Over the years, President Kenyatta has held talks on direct flights with top American government officials starting with his August 2014 visit to the US, in September 2014 and September 2015. This year, the Head of State visited the US twice and on both occasions, direct flights was always top on the agenda. The first visit was when President Kenyatta met his US counterpart Donald Trump in August at the White House in Washington DC. In September, the President was back to the US to attend the United Nations General Assembly during which he met and held discussions with senior US government officials on a number subjects among them the direct flights.
The direct flights were also top of the agenda when former US President Barack Obama visited Kenya in 2015. The President also spearheaded government measures to ensure JKIA met standards required to launch direct flights to the United States. The measures included infrastructure upgrades and improvement of security of the airport.
Before Kenya Airways got the green light to fly to New York, the Kenya Civil Airports Authority (KCAA) passed the International Civil Aviation Authority’s (ICAO) International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) run by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and got clearance from the FAA in 2017. Besides Kenya, Cape Verde, Egypt, Ethiopia, Nigeria and South Africa are the other African countries with the Category 1 access to the US.