Kenya Airways resumed international commercial flights on Saturday in the most uncertain of times for both world aviation and the company itself.
Covid-19 restrictions around the world and Kenya Airways' internal reorganisation have seen the airline drop 42 direct flights routes including some of the country's major tourism destinations from its operating list.
The national carrier will operate flights to 11 countries only to begin with, as it cuts the frequency to some destinations as demand is expected to remain depressed for at least the next 18 months.
The 11 countries on the KQ list are Uganda, Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Morocco and Namibia from Africa with Canada, Switzerland, Japan, China and South Korea as destinations the national carrier will fly to outside the African continent.
The airline had excluded Kenya's major tourism destinations such as the US, Britain, India while in the region, Tanzania and Burundi are missing from the list. Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has, however, amended the list to include US, the UK, Italy, Germany, France, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar, which had been excluded. This means passengers from countries not on the list will have to connect to Nairobi some other way. The list of countries will, however, be reviewed as need demands.
US-bound passengers from Kenya will also now be forced to transit through Europe or the Gulf.
Before the pandemic, the carrier operated 42 aircraft to 56 destinations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America.
Meanwhile, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia announced guidelines on handling foreigners as the country opens its airspace. He said passengers from countries with mild and limited transmissions or with a declining incidence will be exempted from isolation. Other exemptions are for passengers arriving from South Korea, Japan, Canada, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Namibia, Switzerland, Uganda, and Morocco.
However, passengers from Tanzania, will be placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days. Although the country is not on the list of 11, an earlier schedule released by KQ shows that it will fly to Kilimanjaro, Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.
All arriving passengers should have Covid-19 negative certificates from a test within the past 96 hours and with a body temperature not exceeding 37 degree Celsius. This will gain the passenger exemption from quarantine.
Tanzania's Foreign Minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi said Friday; "With effect from August 1, Kenya Airways will be coming to Tanzania through Kilimanjaro International Airport and Dar es Salaam, I wonder if they will be coming only to drop passengers without picking others," when asked if he is aware that the country is not on the list of 11 where KQ will be flying to from August 1.
"I as a Foreign minister I have not yet received any diplomatic note with regard to that so I cannot comment on it although I have been informed of the decision.
"The only diplomatic note I have received is Kenya's request to Tanzania to support Amina Mohamed in her bid to head the WTO.
Away from that, Transport Secretary Macharia said KQ passengers on both domestic and international flights will experience longer check-in times put in place to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.
Mr Macharia said his ministry is working jointly with the Kenya Airports Authority and KCCA, in reviewing the frequency and timing of flights to facilitate physical distancing at airport facilities.
Social distancing and wearing of face masks at airport lounges is mandatory. According KQ chief executive Allan Kilavuka, the flight schedule will be continually updated as airlines are guided by the different countries' border regulations and as and when demand picks.
In the middle of all this uncertainty, KQ has also had to assure its clients that its aircraft are safe to fly with all safety and servicing protocols adhered to following a US Federal Aviation Administration emergency Airworthiness Directive (AD) for 2,000 Boeing 737s.
The FAA said it found compromised air check valves when bringing the aircraft out of storage, and warned that corrosion on the fifth stage bleed air check valve after aircraft storage without use for some time could result in dual-engine failure.
Watching the bottomline
The US agency spokesperson Lynn Lunsford asked airlines to inspect the planes for valve corrosion, and if found, they must be replaced before the aeroplane is returned to service.
Kenya Airways currently operates a fleet of 40 aircraft, a mix of Boeing and the Brazil-made Embraer 190 jets. The airline assured its clients saying; "We have a compliant process and have put the required measures in place to ensure all our aircraft are safe for operations. The safety of our guests and staff remains our highest priority."
Fleet matters aside, the carrier resumes international flights even as it announces the sacking of 400 cabin crew as part of downsizing to cushion the airline's bottom line and support its long-term survival.