Kenya resumes negotiations on direct flights to the US
Kenya has resumed negotiations on direct flights to the US after security concerns led to the cancellation of Delta Airlines’ inaugural Atlanta-Nairobi flight in 2009.
The country hopes to double the number of tourists from the US and increase its organic food and flower exports through the venture.
Direct flights between Kenya and the US were terminated in the early 1980s after terrorists started targeting Israeli and Western facilities in Kenya.
“We have agreed that the US embassy becomes a central player as Kenya and US governments start discussing this issue,” said Tourism minister Najib Balala when he hosted ambassador Jonathan Scott Gration at his Nairobi office today.
Kenya receives 100,000 tourists per year from the US despite the potential for double the number. This year, the Tourism ministry allocated Sh88 million to marketing Kenya in the US, double the amount allocated last year.
Kenya’s sale of flowers, organic foods and black tea in the US market is negligible partly because of lack of direct flights between the two countries, yet the market for such produce is large.
In 2009, Delta Airlines was to start direct flights from Atlanta to Nairobi via Dakar, but the inaugural flight aborted after the Department of Homeland Security declined to permit it because of the vulnerability of Nairobi to terrorist attacks. “The main concern then for the Homeland Security was Somalia,” said Mr Balala. Mr Gration declined to give a timeline of when the flights, saying much depends on reforms taking place in Kenya.
“The key to attracting investors here is to continue with the reforms that the country is going through, especially under the new constitution,” said the envoy.
The US is concerned that terrorists could use missiles to shoot down their passenger aircraft. Although the Africa Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia has been given the mandate to pursue the al-Shabaab militia, the force has a long way to go.
Several US airlines have direct flights into African countries like Ghana and Senegal.
Security concerns have also led the US issuing terse travel advisories that have discouraged Americans from visiting Kenya. The US envoy said future travel advisories will have a toned down language.