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Kenya Approved for Direct Flights to U.S., Credit to Obama

(Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)
Kenyans cheer as U.S. President Barack Obama’s motorcade passes in Nairobi.

In July 2015, former U.S. President Barack Obama dangled the prospect of direct flights between Kenya and the U.S. Speaking in Kenya, Obama said American and Kenyan officials had met and that “real progress has been made.”

Finally, this week Kenya’s transport ministry said that the country’s airlines have been given security and safety clearance by U.S. authorities.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has been trying for years to pass U.S. aviation audits so that its international airport, Jomo Kenyatta International, can host direct flights between the two countries, helping tourism, trade and travel for the growing Kenyan diaspora in North America.

After more than a year of infrastructure improvements, the airport has now been deemed category 1 in security and safety, according to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program. Kenyan Transport Minister James Macharia said that officials were now applying for code-share agreements with U.S. airlines and approval to begin direct flights.

This adds Kenya to the short list of just five sub-Saharan African countries that meet the IASA requirements and can fly directly to the U.S.: South Africa, Ethiopia, Cabo Verde, Ghana and Nigeria. African immigrants in the U.S., now over 2 million, should give the country’s struggling national carrier, Kenya Airways, a boost in traffic.

Financial analysts like Aly Khan Satchu say making travel to Kenya easier could go a long way in attracting more investment to East Africa’s largest economy. Traders say cargo fees will be much lower on exports like flowers, one of Kenya’s biggest sources of foreign exchange. Currently, flowers must go to Europe before heading to the U.S.

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