Kenya Airways will drop direct flights to the United States and China when it resumes international flights from August in a shift that has seen the national carrier cut the routes it serves by half.
The airline says it has halved its routes to 27 and cut the frequency of flights to some destinations with passenger demand expected to remain depressed for at least 18 months.
US-bound passengers from Kenya must now change planes in Europe or the Gulf on a journey that can take 20 hours or more.
Kenya Airways had started direct flights to the US in October 2018, cutting the journey to 15 hours on the long haul route tapped as part of an effort to revive the airline’s fortunes.
Domestic commercial and passenger flights resumed July 1 after the restrictions were lifted while international travel will resume from August 1, offering a boost to Kenya Airways, which had lost an estimated Sh10.6 billion in revenues in the six months to June.
“We plan to resume flights to 27 destinations in August. This represents close to 50 percent of our routes pre-Covid,” said KQ chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka in an interview with the Business Daily.
The airline currently operates 42 aircraft on routes to 56 destinations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America. The carrier will fly to Addis Ababa, Kigali and Dar es Salaam (twice) daily and Zanzibar three times every week.
Outside Africa, the Kenya Airways will operate three weekly flights to London and Mumbai and five weekly flights to Dubai.
On Amsterdam, Paris and London routes, the carrier will operate with reduced frequencies, while resumption to China is hinged on demand.
Kenya Airways on January 31 suspended all flights to and from China amid a virus outbreak that had killed more than 200 people in China and spread to 18 countries at the time. The virus had by yesterday infected more than 14.5 million people and killed more than 600,000 globally.
Beijing in March said foreign airlines could operate no more than one weekly flight to China.
But last month it loosened restrictions on international air travel that were put in place to control the coronavirus.
The move came hours after the US pushed Beijing to allow US airlines to resume flights to the country. China has emerged as one of the key routes for Kenya Airways and accounted for the largest share of the Sh9.4 billion the carrier raked in from Asia.
Africa and Europe, however, accounted for 78.3 percent of the Sh127.6 billion sales the airline reported in the year to December. Kenya Airways had forecast its daily direct flights to the US, which it launched for the first time in October 2018, would boost annual revenues by more than 10 percent in 2019 and 2020. The long-haul route aimed to encourage more business and tourist travel, with the US being one of Kenya’s biggest source of visitors.
Kenya Airways, which lost an estimated Sh10 billion in revenue as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdowns, was struggling long before the outbreak.
It posted 2019 losses of nearly Sh13 billion compared to Sh7.56 billion the previous year.
The government has been working on a plan to renationalise the airline in an attempt to save the business after a 2017 debt restructuring did little to improve its outlook.