Delta Air Lines Inc. may become the first carrier to fly directly to Kenya from the U.S. as early as next year and Kenya Airways Ltd. plans to follow, said Michael Kamau, transport secretary for the East African nation.
“Definitely Delta will be the airline to start,” Kamau said in an interview today in the capital, Nairobi. “We are working with them and regulators more closely this time around to secure all the requirements.”
Delta in 2009 postponed indefinitely a plan to start direct flights between Atlanta and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, via Senegal, after the U.S. government refused permission at the last minute over security concerns. Employees at Delta’s U.K.-based communications office didn’t immediately reply to a voice message today seeking comment.
Kenya borders Somalia, where al-Qaeda-linked militants have been waging an insurgency since 2007 to oust the United Nations-backed government and impose a strict version of Shariah, or Islamic law. The militant group, al-Shabaab, carried out an attack in September at a shopping mall in Nairobi that left at least 67 people dead, which it said was in revenge for Kenya deploying troops in Somalia in 2011.
Kenya Airways plans to more than double the number of routes it flies and increase the size of its fleet to 107 aircraft as part of a decade-long expansion plan, it said in 2012. The company took delivery of its third Boeing Co. 787-800 Dreamliner airplane this month and has ordered six more of the aircraft. Its fleet also consists of another 28 Boeing passenger and cargo aircraft and 18 Embraer SA jets.
Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Titus Naikuni said in November that it’s pointless to acquire more aircraft from Chicago-based Boeing unless the U.S. government allows his airline to commence direct flights to that country.
Kenya is tightening security at its main airport so that it meets standards required by the U.S. and officials with the Federal Aviation Administration will visit Kenya in October to check on the progress, Kamau said. U.S.-based companies including General Electric Co. and Boeing will probably help lobby authorities for authorization of the route, he said.
The nation is expanding the major Nairobi airport, which was struck by fire a year ago that gutted the international arrivals hall.