National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) has cut back the number of flights on the recently launched Nairobi-New York route citing low demand during the winter season.
KQ, as the airline is popularly known, said it has rescheduled flights for the period covering November to March next year.
“The winter schedule for all our flights took effect from Oct 28 (day of the Nairobi New York flight launch) and will run until March 30, 2019... We cancel flights that are not commercially viable, so this is not unique to this route,” a KQ official said.
The airline has already cancelled 10 scheduled flights on the new route for the period beginning November 5 to December 5, and it is expected that more trips will be affected before the end of the winter season in March 2019.
KQ did not disclose the specific days affected by this latest change in flight schedules.
The airline, however, argued that its decision is in line with global practice that allows airlines to reduce the frequency of flights on certain routes during low demand in winter to avoid suffering losses.
“It is common practice to reduce frequencies, downgrade or even upgrade flights to balance costs and revenue.
"These 10 flights were identified at three weeks before the inaugural flight and travel agents plus guests were advised as per our flight cancellation procedures,” said the official.
Airlines that choose to reduce the frequency of flights either lease out aircraft, use the period to carry out fleet maintenance or park the unutilised jets to cope with the hard-hitting weather.
KQ two weeks ago launched daily non-stop flights on the Nairobi-New York route in a much celebrated fashion, with President Uhuru Kenyatta in attendance.
The airline described cancellation of the flights as a product of an informed decision that followed market research and had been made long before the launch of the inaugural flight.
NO NEW SCHEDULE
The daily flights schedule remains unchanged for the unaffected months, KQ said, adding that "there is no new schedule".
“We continuously monitor performance on all our routes and adjust our business model as required,” said the airline.
KQ is now banking on the summer period to break even on this new route – meaning it has to wait until June next year to maximise on the summer windfall.
The direct flight now offers the fastest connection between East Africa and New York, although the Kenyan carrier is expected to face intense competition in key areas such as ticket pricing and service delivery.
Until now, US-bound Kenyan travellers have had to use connecting flights through Europe or Middle East airports and vice versa – a journey that took more than 24 hours.
That has now been reduced to a 15-hour journey eastbound and a 14-hour westbound, cutting off nearly eight hours.
“With the launch of the direct flight to New York, Kenya Airways' market share has increased significantly.
"This trend is likely to grow as we see more travel especially from family and friends taking advantage of the Christmas and Easter holidays,” the KQ official said.
The non-stop flight to the US has been billed as a key plank in Kenya’s quest to boost the arrival of American tourists as well as deepen commercial activity between the two countries that have been trading partners since Kenya’s independence in 1963.
The transatlantic flights are being serviced by the Dreamliners, which are preferred for long-haul routes.
Besides having high fuel capacity than smaller aircraft, the Dreamliner burns as much as 20 per cent less fuel, saving costs for airlines.
Foreign Affairs minister Monica Juma noted in her address after touching down at John F Kennedy (JFK) International Airport that the non-stop KQ service to New York now gives the Kenyan national carrier “a vantage point to serve more than 60 million travellers through JFK.”
“But this also demonstrates another opportunity for creating synergies from the North to the South Hemisphere…
"This KQ flight offers New York, the UN headquarters, and a zenith of multilateral agencies that are dealing with various development aspects into Nairobi, the only UN capital in the global South, a unique opportunity and benefit of seamless connection,” said Dr Juma.
She noted that with the reduced time of flying between Kenya and the US, “the cost of doing business will definitely be reduced, with a corresponding increase on return of investment.”