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Experts urge caution as airspace re-opens despite Covid-19 surge

By People Team
Monday, August 3rd, 2020
Gilbert Kibe, Director General of Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (left) and Kenya Airports Authority acting Managing Director Alex Gitari, engage in light conversation during the flagging off of a Kenya Airways flight to London for resumption of international flights. Photo/PD/John Ochieng
In summary

George Kebaso and Steve Umidha

Three top international airlines landed in Nairobi on Saturday as the Kenyan airspace roared back to life, for the first time in four months.

Kenya Airways also announced resumption of global flights to 30 destinations across Africa, Europe, and the Middle East following the easing of movement restrictions by President Uhuru Kenyatta—with the first flights departing to London, Dubai, Addis Ababa, Kigali and Lusaka.

Speaking during a reception ceremony for Lufthansa, British Airways and KLM flights at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Alex Gitari, acting Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) Managing Director said the authority lost 80 per cent of its business which comes from international passenger flights.

“Covid-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a global crisis of unprecedented proportions; the enormous aftermath on the aviation industry has affected all airport users, work force and the whole supply chain,” he said. 

He said KAA regarded the resumption of international flights as a significant milestone in the aviation sector which has been one of the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We have not had international flights for 120 days, this resumption of international flights will also buoy the fortunes of KAA.”

Airports Council International estimates a reduction of more than 4.6 billion passengers in 2020.

The estimated decline in total airport revenues on a global scale is estimated to be more than $97 billion for 2020.

Despite the bold move by the airlines among them KQ – as Kenya Airways is commonly known, frequent flyers say the overall air transport landscape is still grim.

“I have to give them credit for doing all they could under the circumstances but the overall air transport is still not entirely safe,” says Bruce Rabinowitz, a frequent air traveller presently based in New York, United States – and often uses the suspended nonstop flight.

Adequate traffic

KQ, however, plans to start operations to US, China and Thailand from October with those routes requiring the bulk of the network to open up if it is to sustain adequate traffic on those destinations.

Gitari said the protocols issued for Air Travel Operations during the Covid-19 Public Health Crisis have been developed to help contain the spread of the virus and ensure that the sector is opened up taking cognizance of the measures put in place by the Ministry of Health.

He said KAA has embarked on massive investment in technology to improve check-in procedures through use of e-passports where passengers can scan passports “and  are let through without physical contact at immigration counters.”

Other measures put in place at Kenyan airports to minimise the spread of Covid-19 include; installation of thermal screening equipment, provision of handwashing and sanitisation stations, provision of Port Health observation rooms and mounting of physical distancing markers.

Gitari reiterated that passengers arriving in Kenya will need a Covid-19 Certificate for a test taken not earlier than 96 hours before flight.

The passengers will be subjected to thermo-screening and will be expected not to exhibit any sign related to Covid-19.

“At the airport, passengers will be observed by our Port Health personnel for Covid-19 symptoms.

They are also expected to have filled a questionnaire before departure from countries of origin.

There is also an App that issued to guide passengers on how to fill the questionnaire before they arrive,” he said.

However, aviation sector players believe it will take two to three years before air travel returns to the 2019 levels from the global economic downturn as growth in the markets like US and Asia offsets weaker demand in Europe.

“The global economic and geopolitical context remains uncertain and it will take another two to three years to gain the confidence of travellers and begin the path to recovery for air travel demand,” said KQ chairman Michael Joseph