Kenya Airways resumed domestic flights with lower fares of Sh4,815 for a one-way ticket to Mombasa and Kisumu from Nairobi after being grounded since April due to Covid-19 travel restrictions.
Travellers took advantage of the reduced fares, nearly half its earlier charges, with the flights recording a 65 percent cabin load or seat capacity.
KQ, which flies to Kisumu and Mombasa on local destinations, grounded its fleet in April when the government restricted movement in and of Nairobi, Mombasa and Mandera three to curb the spread of Covid-19.
President Uhuru Kenya announced the easing of the restrictions last week, paving the way for the resumption of domestic flights Wednesday.
International flights will resume from August 1, offering a further boost to Kenya Airways, which had lost an estimated Sh10.6 billion in revenues in the six months to June.
The Sh4,815 fare is a record low for Kenya Airways on domestic routes and
is at par with ticket prices of its low-cost subsidiary, Jambojet. Rival Fly 540, which also resume flights, is charging Sh4,540 on the same routes.
“We saw about 65 percent of the cabin factor today (Wenesday) and there are positive signs that demand would rise,” KQ chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka told the Business Daily Wednesday.
“Kenyans do not typically book in time so it is difficult to tell foreloading (pre-booking.”
The morning and evening flights to Mombasa were fully booked, Kenya Airways said, a signal that the Kisumu route had empty seats.
Resumption of flights, SGR passenger train and long-distance bus travel are expected to boost Kenya’s tourism sector, which has lost Sh80 billion so far in revenue, about half of last year’s total, due to the coronavirus crisis.
The estimated losses include cancelled bookings for the high season months of July-October, said Mohammed Hersi, the chairman of the Kenya Tourism Federation, an industry lobby.
Tourism contributes 10 percent of Kenya’s annual economic output and employs over two million people, most of who have been laid off.
KQ will operate two flights to Mombasa and one to Kisumu every day as it monitors passenger demand.
Before the Covid-19 restrictions, the carrier would operate more than five flights a day on the Mombasa and Kisumu routes.
The low demand for flying started in March when the country registered the first case of the virus.
Mr Kilavuka said they are ready to start international flights in August 1, adding that flight routes will be based on capacity.
Kenya Airways said it plans to reduce the number of routes it serves and the frequency of flights, with passenger demand expected to remain depressed for at least 18 months.
The airline currently operates 42 aircraft on routes to 56 destinations in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe and North America.
It was struggling long before the outbreak, posting 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.