Absence of regulatory approvals may cause Lamu flights to be axed


(Posted 08th December 2015)

When Jambojet, the low cost subsidiary of Kenya Airways, launched scheduled flights to Lamu, Malindi and Ukunda earlier this year there was in particular in Lamu a renewed sense of optimism for the future of the tourism industry.

Travel to Lamu was under severe anti travel advisories at the time and arrival numbers had dramatically reduced, so the new flight from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was a welcome boost for the island.

It was learned at the time that the aircraft Jambojet uses on the route, a Bombardier Q400NextGen, could however not be flown with full capacity due to runway restrictions. This, similar to flights to Ukunda, where the Kenya Airport Authority is presently relocating a school at their expense to allow for a lengthening of the runway of the airfield in Diani, impacted on the bottom line of the route and the airline had been engaged in talks with the regulators to permit the aircraft to be operated at full capacity, with the demand reportedly there.

Clearly frustrated by the slow pace of the regulators – something which can be said about this lot of bureacrats in connection with other issues too – has the airline now given indication that they will suspend sales of tickets from Nairobi to Lamu effective 12th January 2016, and should no change be forthcoming cancel the flights eventually altogether.

Jambojet has some real challenge here. The runway extension has been done but it seems some people at the KCAA are sitting on their hands. KAA has done their work to upgrade Lamu and one has to understand, when you are limited in your capacity and your competitors flying with smaller aircraft like the Dash 8 are not, then it is a question of how long you can absorb the loss of revenue if your seat capacity is capped. This has emerged in the public domain several times but instead of facilitating aviation are they obstructing aviation. If Jambojet ditches Lamu this will be a big loss for the island. Tourism and trade will suffer so this has to be sorted out quickly because it is only a month to go now’ said a regular Nairobi based aviation source.

A copy of a notice was availed to this correspondent, giving the initial information:

Start quote:

Much to our regret we have to suspend our flights to LAU per the 12th of January 2016. The flights are not cancelled, but closed for sales until further notice. As you know we have a restriction on the flights to/from Lamu which means that we can only sell a limited number of seats. The reason for this restriction is the length of the runway which was too short for our type of aircraft. The runway has been extended, but formal approval to use the full runway still has to be given. As it is already taking too long and because it is unclear if and when this approval will be given we have decided to suspend the flights to Lamu until we have this approval. We hope that the approval will be given shortly enabling us to open the flights again for sales. If this is not the case we will cancel our flights on the 12th of January and beyond and find a proper solution for the already booked passengers.

End quote

The ball is now firmly in the court of the regulators which have in the past repeatedly been exposed here for their shenanigans in delaying a decision on granting Jambojet rival Fastjet an Air Service License to start a Fastjet franchise in Kenya and continue to sit on the application of Fastjet Tanzania for landing rights from Dar es Salaam to Nairobi. It is becoming painfully clear that some of the staff at the KCAA need to be sacked to give those remaining a clear and renewed sense of their duties they have, which is to facilitate air operations and not to obstruct air operations.

Watch this space for updates, as and when available, if Jambojet will get the long awaited green light or else may have to end their Lamu services.