Two more regulatory hurdles stand in the path of a maiden direct flight from Kenya to the US, Kenya's Transport Secretary James Macharia has said and expressed confidence in clearing them.
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) on September 5 granted national carrier, Kenya Airways a permit to operate passenger, mail and cargo flights directly to the US. Only months ago in February, the US gave the first approval for direct flights after the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) was granted Category One status by the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
Mr Macharia said on Friday there were two pending approvals by the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and FAA before direct flights to the US would commence.
"There are two more steps which are not as onerous as the first two," Mr Macharia told Saturday Nation.
The pending approval by the TSA is anchored on an ongoing audit of JKIA to certify it as secure as a "last point of departure" for flights heading to the US. This inspection is expected to come to an end next month.
The FAA will also need to grant KQ an Air Operator Certificate after inspecting the carrier's equipment and facilities. It is expected that the FAA will grant this certificate in January, Mr Macharia said.
"This approval by the DOT has been achieved thanks to the hard work of great individuals within all the departments of KQ. I am confident that our team will complete the next milestones with the same success and allow us to operate non-stop flights to the US in 2018", said Kenya Airways Commercial Director Vincent Coste on Friday.
In earlier interviews, Kenya Airways had said that it plans to launch its first flight to the US during the peak travel season in June 2018.
Kenya has been chasing direct flights to the US for more than a decade. Direct flights would cut to nine hours a journey that can currently take as much as 19 hours as passengers anwd cargo are routed through Europe, the Middle East or South Africa.
Mr Macharia said direct flights would make it easier for Kenya to export fresh produce to the US. It would also make Kenya an aviation hub and boost tourism numbers, he added.
The DOT granted the Kenya Airways the foreign carrier permit after the expiry of two consultation windows during which the public, then the President of the United States were supposed to register any disapproval. There were no objections.
According to the terms of the order served on KQ and the Kenyan government, the foreign air carrier permit will only expire if the airline goes into liquidation; bilateral agreements between the two countries change; or if the government in Nairobi asks for another carrier to be granted the licence in place of the Kenya Airways.