How Delta Could Help Kenya Airways Launch an Atlanta-Nairobi Flight

By Trevor Williams

Atlanta is in the flight plan for Kenya Airways, a SkyTeam partner of Delta Air Lines Inc. which could eventually fulfill the latter’s decade-old effort to link its hometown and Nairobi, Kenya’s capital.

Kenyan Ambassador to the U.S. Robinson Njeru Githae told Global Atlanta that his country’s the flag carrier is eyeing links with Washington, then Atlanta, following the opening of a nonstop route to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport last October.

That reaffirms what the airline’s chairman said publicly last fall about Kenya Airways’ future plans when celebrating the New York opening.

In an interview, Mr. Githae said a flight to Atlanta would work wonders for the purpose underpinning his two-day visit to Atlanta this month: promoting investment.

Kenya has a variety of infrastructure and energy projects that would benefit from American financing and expertise, he said. It also has products like coffee and roses that could use expanded market access that a nonstop link would provide.

Energy reforms in Kenya have made it a literal hotbed for exploration. The government has streamlined approvals and publicized mandated tariff rates for each energy source as it seeks to diversify away from its reliance on hydropower. Geothermal energy is a growing source, and oil has been discovered in the Turkana region, the ambassador said.

“If by the end of this talk you haven’t opened your checkbook, we will have failed,” the former finance minister told Atlanta Council on International Relations members at a luncheon.

A flight could also bolster the argument for putting a Kenyan consulate general in Atlanta, an option Mr. Githae said he would seriously explore after what he described as a productive visit.

The fact that Kenya Airways operates the JFK route at all proves the resolution of the issue that forced an eleventh-hour postponement of Delta’s planned flight in 2009.

The night before it was set to leave, Delta said “security vulnerabilities” cited by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration forced the grounding of a flight that would have extended Delta’s already strong lead among U.S. passenger carriers directly serving African cities.

As late as three years later, Delta told Global Atlanta it was ready to relaunch the flight should the necessary improvements be made. Kenya’s then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga told Global Atlanta in May 2012 that renovation of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport would resolve the security issue: the requirement of separation between arriving and departing international passengers.

Now, it seems that the commercial calculus is what has changed. Delta told the Atlanta Business Chronicle in November that it has no plans to serve Kenya directly, a few months after launching a codeshare partnership with Kenya Airways.