Air Kenya's international expansion plans are on hold following Tanzania's announcement that it plans to withdraw from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) economic grouping of 21 sub-Saharan African states.

Air Kenya had hoped to inaugurate flights to Kilimanjaro and Mwanza in Tanzania, from Nairobi, with the backing of the Kenya Civil Aviation Board, following the agreement earlier this year to open the skies of COMESA countries to member states.

Under the agreement, restrictive bilateral air services agreements are to be replaced with a liberal regime involving simple route licence approvals (Flight International, 25-31 August). Tanzania says it will withdraw from COMESA in September next year, but is prepared to comply with its rulings until then.

"Unfortunately, the Tanzanian Civil Aviation Board has not received formal notice saying it should comply and, because of this, has blocked our traffic right application until the matter is resolved," says John Buckley, Air Kenya's managing director.

Air Kenya's plans for service to Kilimanjaro and Mwanza were based on phase one of the open skies policy from COMESA, which allows designated carriers to operate up to 14 scheduled services each week between two city pairs without any restriction on capacity. Flights to Kilimanjaro and Mwanza would operate from Nairobi Wilson Airport using de Havilland Dash 7s.

Phase two, which removes the 14-flight limit and allows fifth freedom flights, encouraged Air Kenya to apply for international rights for services to Lilongwe, Harare, Lusaka, Entebbe, Dar-es-Salaam and Zanzibar for launch next year.

Talks are in progress with Aircraft Leasing and Finance to acquire two Boeing 737-200s for phase two services, to operate from Jomo Kenyatta Airport.

Source: Flight International