Kenya bans more Emirates flights with Dubai
Thursday, May 27, 2021
BY EDWIN MUTAI
- Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia alleged that the airline and the director general of the Dubai Aviation Administration had written him “very insulting” letters.
- The recent stalemate brings back memories of a spit about a decade ago when Kenya and the United Arab Emirates were embroiled in retaliation against their citizens.
- The 2010 feud between these countries was sparked by an incident in which Kenyan immigration officials mistakenly deported four members of the Dubai royal family
Emirates, based in Kenya and Dubai, is caught in a row as it seeks additional flights to Nairobi, increasing the risk of a new diplomatic conversation with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia alleged that the airline and the director general of the Dubai Aviation Authority had written him “very insulting” letters to get Kenya to allow more frequencies through the Emirati airline.
“We recently received a letter from the Director General of Civil Aviation of Dubai that was not written by the Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They told us we shouldn’t fly planes with a capacity of more than 220 seats to Dubai, but they fly in Kenya planes with more than 400 seats, ”he told members of the Senate Committee on Roads and Transport on Wednesday.
“When we receive these types of letters, they are sending the wrong message regarding the airline’s tactics and showing that they do not respect Kenya,” the CS added.
The recent stalemate brings back memories of a spit about a decade ago when Kenya and the United Arab Emirates were embroiled in retaliation against their citizens. The 2010 feud between these countries was sparked by an incident in which Kenyan immigration officials mistakenly deported four members of the Dubai royal family.
The four royals were arrested for not having a proper entry visa in Mombasa. They were interrogated for hours before being taken back to Dubai for allegedly suspected terrorism.
Dubai retaliated by imposing restrictions on all Kenyans entering the UAE being required to provide proof of college education in order to obtain a visa. This sparked deportation fear in the thousands of Kenyans who worked in the Gulf nation and led to ceasefire talks.
Mr Macharia said Emirates, which operates 14 weekly flights to Nairobi, is looking for additional daily frequencies, a request Kenya is rejecting because of the distorted advantage in favor of airlines from the Gulf region.
“If you add Etihad Airlines and Air Arabia, they have a total of 28 weekly flight frequencies against Kenya Airways’ seven,” he said.
According to CS, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airlines and Air Arabia – all scheduled for flights from the United Arab Emirates – currently have a weekly seat capacity of 15,400 versus 5,510 for Kenya Airways.
“If they (Emirates) get more flight capacity, they get 90 percent of the business between Nairobi and Dubai, while KQ gets 10 percent. This is not tenable, ”he replied to questions from Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jnr.
Mr Macharia told lawmakers that through a Sh75 billion loan guarantee to the airline, the government has a special interest in KQ and will protect it from any threats to its survival.
“However, as you (Emirates) do a lot of lobbying as Cabinet Secretary for Transport, I will not approve any additional seats or flight frequencies for the UAE airlines,” he said.
The CS said the government’s decision also depends on the number of passengers, which has declined as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Every airline has problems. Giving Emirates additional frequencies will exacerbate a difficult situation. We will disagree even if they continue to lobby because it is unsustainable, ”said Macharia.
He said Emirates Airlines benefits from significant government subsidies and is therefore able to sell the seats on the Nairobi-Dubai route at throwaway prices because of the subsidy.
He said only the national career KQ can protect Kenya’s national interests in relation to emergencies.
“When Covid-19 struck, we looked for airlines to evacuate our people, but only KQ came in handy. We had to change the configuration of two KQ 747 aircraft to make it easier to ship vaccines as no airline wanted to help us, ”Macharia said.
He said KQ, as Kenya Airways is known under its international code, is a business entity that has a major impact on the country’s economy, particularly in tourism and the trade in horticultural products including flowers. “When it comes to protection, we cannot hesitate to protect KQ,” he said.
In February, KQ announced that it would need at least $ 500 million (Sh54.87 billion) in bailouts over the next nine months to control the turbulent aviation sector after the demand for air travel due to the economic impact of Covid-19 has collapsed.