•Kenya Airways flies a Boeing 787-8 on the route with a capacity to carry 234 passengers maximum.
•The Kenya Aviation Workers Union and Kenya Tourism Federation have called on the airline to suspend flights to China until the coronavirus is contained.
National carrier Kenya Airways yesterday came under pressure to suspend its flights to China in the wake of continued widespread of the coronavirus.
The loss-making carrier yesterday however said it is observing the situation and would determine, if needed, the “need to cancel the flights to China”, acting CEO Allan Kilavuka indicated.
This, even as major global airlines continue to suspend flights to the Asian country.
Kenya is reported to have Africa's sixth-highest risk of receiving a case of the new coronavirus imported from China, according to a new modelling study produced by Northeastern University in the US.
“We are going to issue an official statement,” Dennis Kashero, director corporate communications at Kenya Airways told the Star on telephone.
KQ, as it is known by its international code flies thrice a week between Nairobi (Jomo Kenyatta International Airport) and Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport with a stopover in Bangkok(Thailand), a trip that takes approximately 13 hours 36 minutes.
Unionised staff at the airline have reported concerns over risks of flying to China and handling the aircraft plying that route, which was confirmed by the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU).
Some have taken to social media to express their frustrations.
“We are all scared and angry. Everyone who was handling KQ887 is now in a state of shock. We cleaned the aircraft with basic safety gear,” a post read in part, “how greedy can an organisation be to the point of putting the lives of all Kenyans at risk.”
The mentioned aircraft made a trip to Guangzhou and is currently returning to Nairobi, FlightTracker shows. It left Guangzhou at 4.50 pm yesterday with an estimated arrival time for JKIA set at 7.25 pm(tonight).
KAWU yesterday demanded that KQ suspends its flights to China “until the scourge of coronavirus is brought under control.”
“The safety of our members and that of Kenyans is paramount and must precede commercial considerations,” KAWU Secretary-General Moss Ndiema told the Star.
Kenya's high risk of being affected is based on the volume of air traffic between Kenya and China, which has reported more than 100 deaths and 2,700 cases of the deadly virus.
Kenya has a risk of 0.07 per cent, the highest in East Africa and sixth across the continent.
Tourism stakeholders have equally called for suspension of flights, saying the country lacks capacity to handle a 'Corona Virus Crisis.'
"We did suspend flight to West Africa when we had the Ebola outbreak . It's about time we suspend flights to and from mainland China until further notice,” Kenya Tourism Federation chairman Mohammed Hersi wrote yesterday.
The Nairobi- Guangzhou route is one of KQ's most lucrative , fetching about Sh14.9 million on a round trip, an indicator why management is reluctant to suspend flights.
A return economy ticket on the route would cost an average Sh63,845(as of yesterday online booking).
It flies a Boeing 787-8 thrice a week on the route, with a capacity to carry 234 passengers maximum. Cancellation will cost the airline millions including compensations.
Yesterday, Kenya Airline Pilots Association(KALPA) said it was in talks with KQ management to address the situation.
“We have our pilots and our customers out there who need to be taken care of. We hope they (management) comes up with a solution that is good for everyone,” KALPA chairman Captain Njoroge Murimi told the Star.
Guangzhoui is approximately 968 kilometers from the hard hit city of Wuhan(the capital of Hubei province) with the two cities having a travel time of 1 hour 45 minutes (flight) and 3.5 -four hours on high speed trains.
On Tuesday, a Kenyan student who arrived from China via Kenya Airways was quarantined at the Kenyatta National Hospital for tests after he exhibited flu symptoms.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has urged Kenyans to avoid non-essential travel to the coronavirus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan until the situation there is contained.
“Those on essential travels must comply with additional screening measures that have been put in place by the authorities,” the ministry said in an advisory on Monday.
Airlines reported to have suspended some of its flights to China includes Chicago-based United Airlines and British Airways among others.
KQ had not issued its 'official statement' by the time of going to press.