When Kenya Airways inaugurated its first direct flight to the US, the fanfare and expectations were only comparable to the athletics events where Kenya does exploits on the global scene.
The launch could not have come at a better time when the company is seeking to cement its prominence as the Pride of Africa.
As the airline celebrates the first year of operating non-stop flights between Nairobi and New York, the JF Kennedy International Airport Terminal 4 Chief Executive Officer, Roel Huinink, says from a business perspective, the Nairobi-New York route is an important addition in its network development.
KQ’s 105,000 passengers in a year
Speaking to Kenya’s Chams Media, Huinink said, “It is a very important destination and also as a tourist destination it is high on the calendar of many people. It gives the Americans a very good opportunity to visit the beautiful country of Kenya and also the rest of Africa.”
Since the launch of the route, Kenya Airways has signed 15 Codeshare agreements which have seen it steadily penetrate the highly competitive US market.
During the year, the national carrier ferried over 105,000 passengers, operated 594 flights and continues to establish strategic partnerships to provide options for more seamless connections between Africa and the US.
The airline was the first in East Africa to fly non-stop into a US city and since the launch of the NBO – NYC route on October 28, 2018, the national carrier.
While speaking about the anniversary, Kenya Airways Group Managing Director & Chief Executive Sebastian Mikosz said, “The US and the American continent continue to be an essential piece of the puzzle in our network. There have been challenges in the last year but overall, the decision to launch our flights on this route has been rewarding.”
KQ has been consistent on the route flying daily during the peak season and five times weekly during the low season.
The airline has had to make the necessary frequency re-adjustments for operational efficiency which saw it achieve an average cabin factor of 75 per cent during the year.
“We have maintained consistency in our flights and we will be looking to increase the partnerships in order to fully realize the potential and gains of this investment. We are strategically positioned on Terminal 4 at JFK which has been critical to our success as a lone African Carrier in that space,” Mikosz added.
Beyond New York
The national carrier is also connecting travellers with destinations beyond New York.
KQ Chairman Michael Joseph says, “Right now we have 15 destinations beyond New York. You can fly from Nairobi to those 15 destinations through New York without changing your ticket. We want to expand the number of destinations and we’ll cooperate with Delta.”
He adds that the airline’s business class on the NYC-NBO route is full every night while the economy is almost full at 65 to 85 per cent full every night.
On the profit side of things, KQ remains optimistic.
“The airline business is very different from many other businesses. It takes time to make money and in this case, in New York, we sit in twelve months we start to break even. Well, actually broke even in eight months,” adds Joseph.
Mikosz says that it’s the best initiative for KQ.
“It is good for business, it’s good for the image of Kenya and it’s good for us in Kenya Airways. We believe that in challenging times we can still enter the most difficult market, be present and prove that we have our place in it.”
Connecting African countries to the US
Since 2018, KQ has focused on expanding its network as part of the airline’s growth strategy and this route has created the shortest gateway for leisure and corporate travellers to Africa from the finance capital of the world – New York.
KQ’s entry on the New York route was aligned with its broader strategy of increasing connectivity for premium travellers in the US and Europe.
The US is one of Kenya’s top tourist source markets, with about 95,000 tourists visiting Kenya every year.
KQ is pursuing plans to take up partnership opportunities that ensure seamless connectivity to some of Kenya’s world-renowned tourism destinations such as the Maasai Mara.
The NBO-NYC route has also been a key attraction for travellers connecting to other areas in the region thus growing passenger numbers on KQ’s network in Africa.
During the year, KQ connected 34 African countries to the US. The top traffic sources from Africa have been Nigeria- 16.3 per cent, Uganda- 14.7 per cent, South Africa- 15 per cent, Tanzania- 11.7 per cent and Congo – 8 per cent.
The introduction of this route has been critical in supporting commerce for Kenya and the rest of Africa using Nairobi as the hub by reducing transport time and costs, facilitating knowledge and people flow as well as increasing foreign exchange earnings.
There are over 48 American companies and other agencies such as the UN that have their regional headquarters in Kenya.
In the last 11 months, KQ has transported 530 tonnes of cargo from Kenya and 80 tonnes from the other African countries to New York.
From Kenya, the main goods transported have been textiles under the AGOA agreement which has been supported by KQ’s partnership with trucking companies for last-mile deliveries.
The airline is also working with the Flower Council of Kenya and other regulatory bodies in Kenya and the US to open up the flower business which has shown huge potential.
944 tonnes of cargo was also ferried from New York to Africa through the KQ flights.
The Kenya Airways New York flight takes 15 hours from Nairobi to New York and 14 hours and 10 minutes from New York to Nairobi. The route is operated on the Boeing 787 – 8 Dreamliner which features 30 Business Class seats and 207 Economy Class seats.
To celebrate the first anniversary, KQ has launched a global promotion offering customers a 30 per cent discount on tickets to all destinations across the network.
The airline will also be conducting a series of events through the week in Kenya & New York to celebrate and appreciate their customers, partners, agents and staff whose contribution and hard work have ensured the continued success of the NBO – NYC route.