Tourism players want more global flights in Mombasa

Currently, the county receives only one scheduled Ethiopian Airline flight daily

In Summary
  • Qatar and KLM Royal Dutch have tried to apply for licenses to fly to Mombasa, but that has also hit a dead end.
  • Currently, the Moi International Airport is only receiving one scheduled flight- Ethiopia Airline, which flies daily to the region.

Tourists alight from a chartered flight at Moi International Airport, Mombasa
Tourists alight from a chartered flight at Moi International Airport, Mombasa

The debate on open sky policy for Moi International Airport, Mombasa, is gaining momentum after Supreme Court upheld William Ruto's victory.

The apex court on Monday dismissed eight petitions that had been filed to challenge Ruto’s victory in the August 9 general election. He will be sworn in as President next Tuesday.

At the Kenyan coast, tourism stakeholders and the region’s leadership are challenging the incoming government to ensure more scheduled flights are allowed to fly directly to Mombasa.

Before the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Mombasa received Qatar Airways five times a week, Turkish Airlines seven times and Rwandair three times.

Currently, Moi International Airport only receives one scheduled flight- Ethiopia Airline, which flies daily to the region.

After Covid-19, the government restricted flights coming to Mombasa. Despite applying for renewal of their licenses, these international flights are yet to be given a green light.

Veteran coast tourism stakeholder Mohammed Hersi on Monday said to kick start the tourism sector at the coast, the national government must allow more scheduled flights to the region.

“Scheduled flights are all keen to continue flying into Mombasa, but they have been denied licences ostensibly to protect Kenya Airways," Hersi said.

“Kenya Airways does not fly to any international destination out of Mombasa, if they (KQ) did I would be the first one to defend them."

According to Hersi, the Turkish airline used to have 14 weekly flights to Mombasa and Nairobi; seven to Mombasa and seven to Nairobi.

“After Covid-19 came, they were given only seven flights to Kenya and they opted to start landing in Nairobi only," he said.

“Turkish used to connect Mombasa to 324 cities in 124 countries globally. Why do we deny Mombasa that opportunity?” 

He said Qatar and KLM Royal Dutch have tried in vain to apply for licences to fly to Mombasa, but that has also hit a dead end.

KLM has never flown directly to Mombasa, but if its licence is approved, it will be good for the coastal tourism sector that is struggling with low numbers.

Emirates and Rwanda Air have also applied to fly to Mombasa, awaiting approval.

Rwandair used to make three flights to Mombasa, connecting Kigali to Mombasa and Dubai.

Ethiopian Airlines has applied to fly 14 times a week to Mombasa, Qatar Airways applied to fly seven times a week and Turkish Airlines applied to fly seven times a week.

Hersi, the group director of operation at Pollman Tours and Safaris, said tourism and shipping are Mombasa’s mainstay.

“However they are both being strangled by the very government that is meant to help nurture and support them,” he said.

Last Friday, Governor-elect Abdulswamad Nassir said he will push for the Open Skies Policy at the Moi International Airport to improve international tourism in the region.

Nassir said Kenya cannot afford to have an airport that was upgraded with more than Sh7 billion and is only allowed to receive domestic flights.

“I have a feeling that with the right presidency, things are going to be extremely smooth. Either way, as long as there is that element of common desire growth, any single person should be able to understand that we need to have OSP here in Mombasa,” he said.

Nassir also said that he was already in talks with four institutions that want to set up Meeting Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions facilities in Mombasa that will boost tourism in the county and the region.

In late June, Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia confirmed receiving several applications from Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airways, KLM Royal Dutch Airline and Qatar Airways to increase frequency to Kenya.

 “A lot of airlines have applied to bring more frequencies to Mombasa. I can mention Qatar Airways, KLM, Turkish Airways and Ethiopian airlines," Macharia said then.

"I got their applications on my table asking to fly more times to Mombasa. We are going to look at the license for approval."

Macharia clarified that the national government is not against OSP in Mombasa, adding that during Covid-19 most airlines went through a turbulent period of operations because the number of passengers went down.

“Open Sky Policy is encouraged, but within the confines of the bilateral air service agreements. During Covid, each country tried to protect its airspace," Macharia said.

"I will give an example, Kenya Airways used to fly seven times a week to China and the numbers were reduced to once a week."

He said as a government they must look at the wider sovereign strategic issues, which affect the national carrier.

“You open the skies abruptly, without any planning, you have to shut down your airline," he said.

"We shall be opening the skies, but in a programmed planned manner to make sure we do not impact negatively on our strategic assets like Kenya airways."

(Edited by Tabnacha O)

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