Dutch national carrier–KLM has announced direct flights to Mombasa in what could destabilise national carrier Kenya Airways on the key Amsterdam route.
The airline which is part of the Air France-KLM Group, yesterday said the direct flights will commence in October, as its seeks to further strengthen its presence in East Africa.
It will operate two flights a week, on Thursday and Sunday, flying the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner between Amsterdam and Mombasa, starting October 31, with a loop to Nairobi from Mombasa.
In a statement, KLM General Manager for East Africa Arthur Dieffenthaler said the flights to Mombasa will mainly target leisure travellers to the coastal city by offering a direct flying experience.
“The rising number of tourists visiting Mombasa, not just from Europe but also the rest of the world, signifies the growing interest in the unique experiences the coastal city has to offer,” Dieffenthaler said, noting the Covid-19 pandemic has increased demand for direct flights.
A direct trip will cost $748 (about Sh80,000) with a round-trip costing $576 (Sh61,000) on the route, where Kenya Airways does not fly directly.
While KQ has been capitalising on its Nairobi-Mombasa route to fly passengers landing at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, direct flights by KLM will erode its dominance.
The addition of the Amsterdam-Mombasa route will see KLM expand its presence in the region on the back of increased tourism and trade between East African nations and the European Union, which has however been slowed down by the pandemic.
The carrier’s decision to launch flights to Mombasa, it said, also signals growing confidence in East Africa’s tourism market, one of the most competitive globally as the world is starting to slowly recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.
KLM is capitalising on the Bilateral Air Services Agreement between Kenya and Netherlands which allows carriers from the two countries to fly to any international airport.
With the existence of the agreement, KLM does not need approval from Kenya’s aviation industry regulator–Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA).
“They just need to activate the Bilateral Air Services Agreement and seek traffic rights from the ministry. They need to inform the ministry that they wish to fly to Mombasa,” KCAA director general Gilbert Kibe told the Star.
The Transport Ministry yesterday however, said it has not received KLM’s request to fly directly from Amsterdam to Mombasa.
‘‘When we do, we will process as necessary. Those (bilateral air services agreement) are general provisions. Destinations and schedules (flights) requires specific approvals,’’ Transport PS Solomon Kitungu told the Star.
The move now raises questions on the Bilateral Air Services Agreement which seems to favour Netherlands, with KLM which has a network of 92 European cities and 70 intercontinental destinations expected to eat into Kenya Airways passenger traffic.
Pre-Covid, Kenya Airways only operated passenger flights to KLM’s hub of Amsterdam which currently remain suspended over the pandemic. KLM would then fly the passengers to other cities in the country and Europe.
KQ, as it is known by its international code, has had a long-standing joint-venture agreement with Air France-KLM which owns a 7.8 per cent stake in the national carrier.
The partnership however could be ending as the government, which owns a 48.9 per cent stake, pushes for nationalisation of KQ.
It plans to buy out local lenders who have a 38 per cent stake, and private investors in the Nairobi Securities Exchange listed airline.
KQ is currently also disadvantaged on the Ethiopian route where it only flies to Addis Ababa, while Ethiopian Airlines has direct flight to both Nairobi and Mombasa.
Kenya has a number of air service agreements with the latest entered in 2018 during the ICAO Air Service Negotiations (ICAN) held in Nairobi.
The deals with Cambodia,The Bahamas, Jamaica, Turkey, Seychelles, Greece, Finland and Burkina Faso were signed by Transport CS James Macharia on behalf of the Kenyan Government.
Source: The Star