Kenya: Aviation Industry Leaders Expect Major Changes in Air Travel

The Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi (file photo).

Aviation is one of the industries hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic. Already, proposals to bail out airlines worldwide are in the trillions of shillings.

There have been concerns that some airlines, especially those that were already in financial distress, may never take off again.

As deliberations continue on the stimulus amount and what strategies will be used to support the sector, it is expected that airlines will have to make major changes to prevent the spread of the virus, which experts fear may be with us for some time.

How will carriers live with the virus?

CURB INFECTIONS

Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka said that for a start air travel is going to be expensive as carriers try to curb infections.

Speaking on Friday during the "Covid-19: Preparing for Recovery" webinar that attracted over 1,400 participants from across the globe, Mr Kilavuka said the future of air travel will be different. It is obvious, he said, that between now and December, there will be diminished air travel across the value chain.

"It will be full of gowns, face masks and shields and all these things. We think that 51 to 76 per cent of our market is going to disappear between now and the end of December," he said.

The industry, he said, is expecting an increase in travel at the beginning and then a slump thereafter because most people will be going back home. Traders will also travel as they seek to resuscitate their businesses.

"For Kenya Airways in particular, if you look at our travelling public, we have about 55 and 60 per cent of them travelling for leisure. A large portion of that is not going to be travelling."

Mr Kilavuka, who is on the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), said they had a meeting on Monday to deliberate on the industry. The board is composed of CEOs of major airlines across the world.

"One of the things that were discussed is the protocol of travel. If you look at it from end to end, it's not just what happens in the plane that is important, but what actually happens from when you leave your home to when you arrive at your destination," he said.

IATA, he noted, will propose that the industry implement "standardised, irreducible minimums" of hygiene.

"We have not agreed what those minimums are, but we know countries like India have already implemented their standardised process so we want to piggyback on that."

CLOSED AIR SPACES

Tourism Principal Secretary Safina Kwekwe said the aviation industry will face challenges into the foreseeable future.

"We have seen a decline in global travel because of closed air spaces, jobs are also declining to the tune of millions. We will see more of this going forward until the world finally settles with the reality of Covid-19," she said during the webinar.

Stakeholders have been discussing how best they can live with the virus.

"Kenya as a destination is waiting to come back stronger, more appropriately designed for the needs of our travellers."

Ministry of Transport official Nicholas Bodo said some of the Covid-19 control protocols will have to be eased to encourage people to travel to Kenya in a safe manner that is good for them and works for the country.

"After all, we don't want this thing to spread," he said. "You have somebody on an eight-hour flight coming for tourism, do you tell them they need to be quarantined for five days?"

He added that the industry is planning on the new norm.

"Even disembarking from a plane, we will have to maintain social distancing. We will no longer rush as before. It will be a challenge to get on board and get off."

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