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To New York and back: It’s ‘mission accomplished’ as Kenya Airways blazes historic route

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Deputy President William Ruto, at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi  last Saturday bid farewell to the Kenya Airways’ inaugural direct flight to New York

It was a thrilling, epic 36 hours from departure of the inaugural Kenya Airways flight — Nairobi-New York-Nairobi. Thank you to everyone who made it happen. Now we should work together to realise all the possibilities it offers to connect us even more closely Bob Godec, US Ambassador to Kenya

 

FLYING veteran Joseph Kinuthia captained the Kenya Airways first non-stop flight from Nairobi on Saturday to New York. George Muli, was in charge when the KQ Dreamliner 787-8 made the return tour, arriving at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Nairobi on Tuesday morning to the reception of jubilant Kenyans including Deputy President William Ruto.

Captain Kinuthia attributed his selection for the honorous historic task to his massive experience and the fact that he will be retiring in the next few months. “I was proposed to be the first one to fly to JFK because I am the most senior pilot in Kenya Airways today. I have been there since 1978. And I will be retiring in the next few months so the company thought probably I should be the one flying.”

The news of Kenya’s historic feat in airline travel continues to be the headlines of the moment. But first, some of the facts:

Historic flight:

FACT FACTS

  • Kenya Airways plane a Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
  • First non-stop flight between East Africa and the United States of America.
  • Direct flights can make stopovers either to refuel or to pick more passengers.
  • KQ has been classified as both non-stop and direct.
  • Airline will offer daily flights to and from New York.
  • It requires four pilots and 12 flight attendants.
  • Plane uses 85 tons of fuel each way.
  • Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner has a capacity of 234 passengers.
  • A return ticket from Nairobi to New York currently starts at Sh66,560, according to the Kenya Airways website.
Captain Joseph Kinuthia … they assigned me the inaugural flight perhaps because I have been here longest, since 1978, and will be retiring in a matter of days

Captain Joseph Kinuthia:  ‘… they assigned me the inaugural flight perhaps because I have been here longest, since 1978, and will be retiring in a matter of days’

  • Leading crew members (Nairobi – New York):

Captain: Joseph Kinuthia

Co-captain: Eric Mbugua

Assistant captain:  Jobba Said Musa

Assistant captain: Patrick Kipsambu

  • Leading crew members (New York – Nairobi):

Captain: George Muli

Co-captain: John Mahugu

1st Officer: Rajesh Varsani

1st Officer: Hussein Adam

Cabin crew manager: Victoria Matalanga

Senior flight purser: George “OG” Omondi

Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta flagged off a KQ Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner carrying 234 passengers from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport after 11.45pm on Saturday,  destined for New York’s JFK International Airport.

The long-haul flight was destined to last 15 hours. Among the passengers on the maiden flight from Nairobi to New York were Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Am Monica Juma and US Ambassador to Kenya Robert Godec. President Kenyatta handed over the Kenyan flag to Amb Juma while Am Gödel 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.

Deputy President William Ruto (left) welcomes back to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Tuesday morning, KQ003 from New York

Deputy President William Ruto (left) welcomes back to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Tuesday morning, KQ003 (top)  from New York

JKIA is already one 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.

Flights from Africa to across the globe are expanding more than ever thanks to more competition in the airline industry, with the latest milestone being the first direct flight from East Africa to the United States completed on Monday by Kenya Airways. The new flights will run daily from Kenya to John F. Kennedy International Airport, and the national carrier hopes they will help drive a rebound in profit.

“This is an exciting moment for us,” Kenya Airways Group Managing Director and Chief Executive Sebastian Mikosz said in a statement. “It fits within our strategy to attract corporate and high-end tourism traffic from the world to Kenya and Africa.”
Kenya earned $1.2 billion in 2017 from tourism, more than a 20% increase from $989 million the previous year, and the US is one of the country’s biggest tourism markets.Travel from the United States grew by 17% and totaled 114,507 arrivals, according to figures released by Kenya’s Tourism Ministry.
“With infrastructure spending set to slow from past highs as Kenya embarks on fiscal consolidation, and with private-sector credit still weak, Kenya is in need of additional growth drivers,” said Razia Khan, chief economist for Africa and the Middle East for Standard Chartered Bank.
“Direct flights to the US will provide a substantial boost to tourism, which has been growing strongly, providing a potential offset to other growth headwinds.”
Kenya Airways, which is partly state-owned, estimates the New York route will boost revenue by 10% in 2019. Bookings already grew by 1,974 last week, the airline said. Last year, the Kenyan government increased its stake in the company to 48.9% from 29.8% in a bid to cover losses. In 2017, African airlines reported 7.5% growth in passenger traffic according to the International Civil Aviation Organization.

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 welcome space at John F Kennedy Airport in New York and the city (below)

The welcome space at John F Kennedy Airport in New York and the city (below)

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.

Captain George Muli (top of picture) and part of crew -- and admirers -- who flew KQ003 from New York back to Nairobi

Captain George Muli (top of picture) and part of crew — and admirers — who flew KQ003 from New York back to Nairobi

Upon landing at the JKF International Airport on Monday at 2.45 pm Kenya time (7.44am New York time), the KQ plane received a water salute, which occurs for ceremonial purposes. The water salute is a touching airport tradition to honour military events, new airline service, anniversaries, noteworthy events at airport, last schedule of an airplane to that airport, and foreign dignitaries.

-Additional reporting by Correspondents and Agencies

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