MIAMI — Kenya Airways may launch service to the United States as early as May of this year. According to a report from South African newspaper Business Day, the SkyTeam member is keen to launch direct (potentially one stop) service to the United States from its core hub at Nairobi in order to boost tourism and business ties with the United States.
The new service would be contingent on Kenya passing a safety audit from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). That audit should be completed by March of 2015, and Kenya Airways would ramp up to add service soon after.
The Financial Viability of this Route for Kenya Airways is Questionable
Kenya Airways is one of the larger carriers in Africa without nonstop service to the US, but like its fellow African flag carrier South African Airways, it is saddled with debt. Earlier in this decade, Kenya Airways had grand plans to follow in the footsteps of Ethiopian Airlines and become a global African airline.
To support that plan, the airline rapidly grew its fleet, adding Boeing 777-300ERs and the Boeing 787 in succession. But the 777-300ERs and even 777-200ERs in its fleet proved to be too large for the route network, especially after tourist demand collapsed in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks since 2011.
Kenya Airways is now in dire financial straits despite the boon of lower fuel prices, saddled with debt and selling off its fleet of 777 variants. Far from achieving its dream of becoming a major global player, Kenya Airways has instead converged upon a strategy focused on serving its immediate backyard (Sub-Saharan and North Africa) as well as Europe, with a fleet where the largest aircraft is the ultra-efficient 787-8.
The Kenyan government may even have to step in to recapitalize the airline, and that alone should be a decent signal that launching a new route to the United States probably isn’t the smartest move.
That being said, if Kenya Airways does plan to follow through with a new flight to the US, the method that would make the most sense would be to extend one of its existing services to Europe (emulating Ethiopian) using the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The destinations that make the most sense are either Washington or New York. In particular Washington D.C. is home to a plurality of the ~95,000 Kenyan Americans and has the added benefit of travel related to government work as well as top NGOs.
Kenya Airways’ only three European destinations are Amsterdam, London and Paris, and given slot constraints, Paris Charles de Gaulle or Amsterdam would be the obvious choice for a stopover point. Less likely would be launching a new route, perhaps restarting service to Frankfurt or Rome for this new direct route to the US. But wherever Kenya Airways elects to stop over, it will likely not be enough to prevent the financial impact of this ill-fated route to cascade in Nairobi.