NAIROBI (HAN) January 6, 2016 – Public Diplomacy and Regional Stability Initiatives News. Kenya hopes to start direct commercial flights to the United States by May after it met most of the requirements set by an international aviation authority, its transport minister said on Wednesday.
The East African nation, which hosted President Barack Obama last July, wants to boost exports to Washington and increase visits by American tourists. Starting flights was part of a package of deals announced during Obama’s visit. “We shall get direct flights to the U.S. by May this year,” Minister James Macharia told Reuters.
Macharia said several airlines were keen to offer direct flights between Kenya and the United States. Delta Airlines previously set a launch date for flights but canceled due to security concerns. Financially embattled Kenya Airways also plans to offer direct flights. U.S. traffic usually transits through hubs like Dubai and Amsterdam.
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Kenya’s main airport, scored 88 percent when it was assessed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) last September, the minister said, disclosing the score for the first time. Inspectors from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration are expected to complete their audit of the airport before the end of March, he said.
The airport failed the same assessment in 2013, but has since improved security, Macharia said. A new terminal opened two years ago and a second one will open soon, allowing the airport to separate departures and arrivals, a key security requirement.
“We have more trained security personnel and very modern scanners for people and goods,” the minister said. Kenya has suffered frequent attacks by Islamist militants from neighbouring Somalia in recent years. Kenya’s main airport was built in the 1970s to handle 2.5 million passengers annually but now handles 6 million passengers a year.