Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport: Kenya spent millions of shillings on the airport’s upgrade to attain Category One status required to operate direct flights to the US. However, the flights never took off. Photo/FILE
By MUNA WAHOME (email the author)
Posted Friday, March 4 2011 at 00:00
National carrier Kenya Airways may have worked behind the scenes to stall Kenya’s quest for direct flights to the US despite the enthusiasm its officials had for the plan in public, leaked cables from the American Embassy in Nairobi indicate.
Top Kenya Airways (KQ) officials remained hostile to the idea even as the government, led by the Office of the Prime Minister, pushed it through the bureaucracy to meet the required standards and beat the set deadline.
The cables released by WikiLeaks quote KQ chief executive Titus Naikuni as expressing doubts on the viability of KQ flying directly to the US and showing “consternation” at US carrier Delta Airline’s decision to fly to Kenya without seeking the co-operation of the national carrier.
While Mr Naikuni had maintained enthusiasm for the deal in public saying it offered the potential for KQ to tap into a new market and help the country grow its exports to the US, he appeared to have been less supportive of the idea in private and in some instances was ambivalent about it.
“KQ chief executive Titus Naikuni told us October 7 that he was “still thinking about” whether direct flights to the US were in the airline’s financial interest, assuming achievement of Category 1.”
US diplomats strongly believed that the plan could not succeed without KQ’s support.
“Kenya Airways is the only Kenyan carrier capable of flying to the US and its market plan is clearly focused on the Middle East, Asia and Europe,” the cable sent on October 9, 2008 says.
US diplomats concluded that lack of support from KQ may have been part of the reason the government was slow in allocating the resources needed to execute the plan.
“KQ is agreed on the need to upgrade the airport, which US officials see as important for the security of its visitors but admits the airline may face an uphill task in convincing the State to expend massive resources on the project,” the leaked memo says.
It also blames the Cabinet for failing to speed up the plan despite Mr Odinga’s efforts to push the process through.
“A plan by Prime Minister Odinga to provide the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) with resources to quickly hire and retain inspectors to certify Kenya Airways’ fleet is languishing in Cabinet,” say the cables.
The PM’s intervention, if successful, would have helped (KCCA) hire inspectors to certify planes in the KQ fleet as fit to fly to the US.
On Thursday, the airline’s communications manager, Mr Chris Karanja, said Kenya Airways had no plans to fly to the US in the current year or even the next.
Access to US may come in form of a code-share arrangement with a carrier flying to the market, he said.
Launch of direct flights to the US failed at the last minute even after US-based Delta Airways had made elaborate plans to fly to Nairobi.