By Winnie Kabintie
Kenya has achieved another first with the inaugural direct flight from Nairobi to New York on October 28th.
The flight, carrying 234 passengers departed Nairobi on October 28 at 11:25 pm and arrived at John F Kennedy International Airport 15 hours later (3 pm EAT), where it was received by a ceremonial water salute.
“I have received with delight, the news of the safe arrival of the non-stop Kenya Airways flight that left Nairobi for New York last evening. This marks the beginning of great opportunities, and open possibilities for our country,” President Uhuru Kenyatta said.
The Kenya Airways flight from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to JKF airport will be the fastest connection from East Africa to New York, with 15 hours duration eastbound and 14 hours westbound.
“Hongera to Kenya Airways for a fantastic inaugural flight #Nairobi to #NewYork! Direct flights will unlock new opportunities for tourism, trade & investment between our countries. Thank you to all who made it possible,” US Ambassador to Kenya Bob Godec said.
The flight has been touted as unique to Kenya Airways network as it will require four Pilots and 12 Flight attendants as well as 85 tons of fuel each way.
According to KQ, Chief executive Sebastian Mikosz, Kenya Airways direct flight to US will reduce the distance by more than six hours.
Currently, to get to Kenya from the US one has to either make a connection in Europe or the Gulf states and recently, Addis Ababa.
The government had in the past years invested in the expansion of airport infrastructure in particular at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, which now boasts a new Terminal 1A both for arrivals and departures, to create ground for the direct flight to New York.
The Sh6.4 billion upgrade of the airport was geared to ensure that the airport met the conditions set for approval of flights between Kenya and the US, which include; enhancing security, separation of passenger arrival and departure terminals, clearing the flight path and fencing off the airport.
The government had set a May 2016 deadline to complete the infrastructure and the efforts eventually bore fruits with the opening of two terminals at the (JKIA) last year and the introduction of the Civil Aviation Amendment Bill 2015, which played a key role in boosting JKIA’s profile in line with requisite conditions for approval of direct flights between Kenya and the US.
JKIA ATTAINS CATEGORY 1 STATUS
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) upgraded JKIA to the much-coveted Category 1 status February 2017, bringing to an end Kenya’s long search for the JKIA to be granted the category 1 status and in November 2017 The national carrier was granted the much sought after special license by the American government to begin direct flights to the US for both cargo and passenger flights.
“Getting the Category One status for us is a major milestone in the growth and development of civil aviation in Kenya, East Africa and rest of Africa,” said Transport minister James Macharia at the time.
Kenya now joins Morocco, Cape Verde, Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Africa as the only countries in Africa with direct flights to the US.
According to Kenya Airways, the direct flights to the US will have a myriad of benefits to the country. Predominantly, the flights will reportedly boost Kenya’s tourism and enhance value and growth of exports to the USA.
Kenya’s direct flights to the US will also accelerate foreign direct investment as well as enhance the global image of the country.
The US is the single largest source of tourists in Kenya after it overtook the UK in 2016, according to data released by the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).
AFRICA’S BEST AIRLINE
The National Airline Kenya Airways (KQ) was last month feted as Africa’s best business and economy class airline in the just concluded World Travel Awards (WTA), Africa & Indian Ocean Gala Ceremony 2018 in Durban, South Africa.