Stakeholders in Kenya’s tourism and economic development sectors have welcomed the launch of direct flights between Nairobi and the United Arab Emirates city of Abu Dhabi by Etihad Airways.
Etihad Airways, the national carrier of the United Arab Emirates commenced direct passenger flights to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) on Sunday making it the latest international airline to adopt Nairobi as its regional hub.
Speaking when he paid a courtesy call on Vision 2030 Director General Mugo Kibati and Tourism Secretary Nelson Githinji, Etihad Airways Chief Commercial Officer Peter Baumgartner, explained that the airline’s new service will provide both passenger and cargo services.
The twin services are expected to significantly boost tourism traffic to Kenya from the Middle East and Asia among other destinations.
The value of UAE exports to Kenya is currently estimated to stand at Sh177.8 billion representing 23.3 percent of Kenya’s total imports last year.
On his part, Kibati confirmed that Etihad’s service launch was a big boost to the country’s bid to position JKIA as a regional transport hub given that the expansion and modernisation of the airport is one of the flagship projects under Vision 2030.
“The expansion and modernisation of JKIA is geared at attracting leading airlines to use Nairobi as their regional hub. By flying into JKIA, Etihad has significantly facilitated the scheduled achievement of this particular flagship project,” Kibati explained.
Since March 2009, Etihad has been operating dedicated cargo services to Nairobi, and now operates five freighter flights with a total capacity of 340 tonnes each week. With the launch of the passenger services on Sunday, Etihad’s cargo carrying capacity to and from Nairobi will increase by five percent.
“This new route will allow Etihad to tap into large traffic flows between East Africa, North Asia, and the Indian Subcontinent,” Baumgartner said.
“Nairobi is an ideal addition to Etihad’s global footprint. There are 38,000 Kenyan nationals residing in the UAE and there are large and established point-to-point traffic flows between the two countries.”
The new daily, two-class A320 service is the airline’s first to East Africa and a critically important next step in expanding its presence in Africa.
The airline will also reach into West Africa with the introduction of flights to Nigeria in July 2012. Etihad Airways also commenced operations to the Seychelles in November 2011 and Libya in January of this year, building on existing services to Egypt, South Africa, Morocco and Sudan.
In a goodwill message, Etihad Airways President and Chief Executive Officer James Hogan said: “We are delighted to introduce Etihad Airways to East Africa. This year will see considerable growth for us within Africa as a whole, as we observe strong and emerging markets across the continent.
“In particular, this new route services the considerable and growing flow of people and capital between Kenya and North Asia, with major Chinese investment in Africa generating passenger demand in both directions.
“We expect to see strong loads to China, including our new destinations – Chengdu and Shanghai – and of course Beijing, though the schedule allows sub-four hour connectivity to key destinations across North Asia, South East Asia, the Indian Sub-continent and Australia.”
The A320 aircraft has 16 Pearl Business class and 120 Coral Economy class seats.
Etihad Airways began dedicated cargo services to Nairobi in March 2009 and will continue to operate five freight-only flights per week. The combined capacity of passenger and cargo aircraft will allow the airline to transport 340 tonnes of cargo each week.