Kenya Airways launches direct flights to Rome and Geneva

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Interview by Silas Odiero

Kenya Airways recently held the official Launch of Nairobi- Rome and Geneva direct flights at the prestigious Hotel Palazzo Naiadi in Rome city centre. The event that was graced by the Kenyan Ambassador to Italy  H.E. Jackline Yonga, the CCO of CON Alitalia Mr. Fabio Lazzerini and the CEO of Rome Airport Mr. Fausto Palombeli, among other important guests, also attracted some of the top ticketing agents from all over Italy. The CEO of African Business Exchange Mr. Silas Odiero, had a brief interview with Kenya Airways Chairman Mr. Michael Joseph and this is what he had to say;

What does the Launch mean to KQ and to you as the chairman?

I think it means quite a lot in terms of boosting trade between Italy, Switzerland and east Africa Kenya included, having a direct flight means that exporters and importers can have better prices and an improved turnaround time especially for perishable goods like fish and flowers that Kenya is well known for. It also means that tourism will improve as the tourists no longer have to do long hours caused by stopovers that are sometimes very long and tiresome. Nairobi is also known to be the hub for many multi-nationals who can now enjoy easy accessibility.

How has it been so far?

It’s been very good. The numbers so far are impressive . We started out six months ago and have had a very good uptake since then. The flights to Rome and Geneva combined have been pretty full , the United Nations, World Health Organisation and other international organizations based both in Rome and Geneva have found the direct flights very useful and are using them more and more. We have also had a lot of tourists  using the flight to both destinations, in fact recently we had contingents coming from as far as Mumbai, so yes,  it’s definitely a good route for us and we believe that it can only get better.

KQ tried the route a few years ago but then stopped, what may have changed that made you come back again.

When we started the route back then, we had a shortage of aircrafts since we had leased out two of our (787) aircrafts which came back at the beginning of this year,  so currently we are in good shape. We have also acquired new Aircrafts overtime in order to give our clients better services. Combining Rome and Geneva has also made it more viable in terms of the numbers. Our hope is that once we are able to consolidate the route then  we can expand in other potential destinations in Europe which we will decide over time based on a number of issues.

Your record at Safaricom continues to be exemplary, should we expect something similar at KQ ,

This is a difficult question. The situations in the two companies are rather different. I am glad that Safaricom has had so much success  and we continue to succeed. It’s an incredible success that we are all very proud of but, you see, one needs to bear in mind that I started Safaricom from scratch. Kenya Airways has a different situation and a difficult one for that matter. At Kenya Airways, I basically  inherited an airline that was not doing financially well and which had very old IT and delivery systems just to mention but a few. I therefore have quite a difficult role even though most people think and that since I have been successful at Safaricom, I should also be successful at  KQ, of course we are making some progress but it’s not the kind of  progress we would like to see.

What are some of the challenges you have as an Airline?

It’s important to note that we are competing against a number of Airlines which without exception are either state owned or state subsidized and this is a very difficult situation for us because kQ is unique in that it is a public/private company.

In fact, before the middle east carriers started flying to Africa, we were profitable but that has now changed, we are no longer profitable because they are massive and they have the capacity to lower Air fares by reducing their costs. Our objective is therefore to get on a level playing field with them even though we might not be able to lower our prices to their level because we have other factors to consider in Kenya. We hope to nationalise the airport and combine Kenya Airways and Kenya Airports Authority into one corporate entity, not because we want to be state owned, but we believe this will enable us to grow and finance our way into expansion. For example, when passengers land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport they pay landing fee to Kenya Airports Authority which in turn remits the money to the exchequer, so the money doesn’t remain within the aviation industry.

What we are trying to do now is to put everything into one corporate aviation holding company which will allow us to keep the revenue within the aviation industry so that we can use the revenue and the balance sheet both to improve and increase the airport and to expand Kenya airways.

Is there anything else in particular that you need the readers to know that I did not ask you?

I have said it time and again and I will continue to focus on pushing the agenda that Kenya Airways is not just an Airline but a strategic asset for the country. It’s not just an institution that should make money. If we lose it, we will lose such a significant asset that will be difficult to recover and it will be such a shame to the country.

Just look at what Emirates have done for Dubai and What Qatar has done for Dubai Ethiopia has done for Addis and what Rwanda Airline is doing for Kigali. Multi-national companies don’t go to Dubai because of the good weather but for connectivity. Kenya Airways should be given a chance to do the same for Nairobi and Kenya in general.