The resumption of passenger flights after a hiatus of over three months following the closing of Kenya’s borders and the restriction of movement in and outside Nairobi brought about by COVID 19 pandemic, is a milestone for the revitalization of Kenya’s economy. Countries have acted responsibly to safeguard human life during an unprecedented event, by closing borders, implementing quarantine, curfews, and ordering lockdowns. These measures were important and necessary, but they cannot continue indefinitely as we also have to safeguard livelihoods, ensure that critical goods reach their destinations, and allow people to travel safely and comfortably.
The aviation industry plays a unique role in connecting business to markets, uniting family and friends, bringing people together to solve problems, build understanding, and global development. By last month’s estimates Kenya’s national carrier, Kenya Airways, had lost an estimated USD 100 million which has affected the country’s key economic sectors such as tourism, hospitality, and agriculture. The phased-out reopening of the country will allow KQ and other airlines to reignite businesses across the country and the region.
Prior to 2020, tourism contributed 9% of Kenya’s GDP and 1.1 million jobs, including in rural areas where employment can be scarce. While we do not expect the sector to be able to immediately resume business-as-usual in a world where travel restrictions are still a reality in many countries, reopening the skies is an important step forward for normalisation. It will enable Kenya to be ready to welcome international visitors when tourism resumes globally – as it will, with pent-up demand following months of lockdown.
There is also the human cost to consider. People are at the heart of the economy and our society and we need to make it possible for individuals to connect with loved ones in other regions and to do business face to face where this is necessitated. We have learned much about what is possible when working remotely, but there are times when we need to bring the right skills to the right place at the right time.
According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), demand for air travel in Africa is forecast to fall by more than 58% in 2020 compared to 2019. African airlines are expected to post a net loss of $2 billion this year with a $6 billion decline in passenger revenues. Concurrently, African airports are expected to lose 51% of their revenues in 2020, i.e., around $2.2 billion. Job losses in aviation and related industries in the region could reach 3.1 million and GDP supported by aviation could fall by $28 billion. Before the COVID-19 crisis, aviation supported 6.2 million jobs in the region and generated $55.8 billion in GDP, according to IATA.
We are now moving into a new phase, where we learn to operate in the world alongside the pandemic. It is critically important for Africa to maintain airlines that operate in the best interests of our region, not just at the whims of commercial objectives set in other markets. Currently, KQ contributes 2% of Kenya’s GDP, with the potential to grow, and supports national current account balances. It is a catalyst for associated industries and supply chains including aerospace manufacturing and facilitates regional integration. In times of disaster, it is also an asset which government can use for rescue, evacuation, or repatriation missions and for assisting Kenyan citizens.
In this regard, national carriers like Kenya Airways should be considered as strategic national asset for the sustainable development of Kenya and Africa at large. A key driver of economic, social and cultural development for and a symbol of our national pride and hope. The airline spreads Kenya’s influence on a global scale, showing the world that we can compete on the same stage. During this time of renewed nationalism, it is more important than ever to demonstrate our competitive spirit and our commitment to development
In making the decision to resume flights, the safety and wellbeing of airline employees, airport staff and passengers remains the government’s primary concern. The government will continue to ensure that airports and airlines are effectively adhering to and implementing the health and safety regulations issued by the International Civil Aviation Organization. This is a layered and phased approach intended to mitigate the risk of transmitting COVID-19. The measures include physical distancing, wearing of face masks by passengers and aviation workers, routine sanitation and disinfection, health screening and contact tracing for both passengers and employees and passenger health declaration forms. I am confident that this will sufficiently minimise risk to the extent possible for this industry, while still allowing travel to take place.
By Abderahman Berthe, Sec Gen AFRAA