VIRGIN ANNOUNCES END TO KENYA FLIGHTS
A shock announcement was dropped on Kenya yesterday by the management of Virgin, presently operating daily flights between London Heathrow and Nairobis Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, that they will discontinue flights effective 24th September this year.
A senior airline executives statement was quoted to this correspondent by an aviation source from Nairobi overnight that the economic climate in Europe was a major factor for the carriers decision to halt flights to Kenya, though no mention was given to the sharp level of competition on the route which has Kenya Airways as the predominant airline to the UKs capital with British Airways only recently announcing they would start using their B747-400s again on the route to increase capacity, besides more flights.
The Nairobi source added: Their staff in Nairobi had been speculating for a while if this might happen and Sir Richard has left no opportunity to blame aviation woes on the UK government. Fees and taxes there just rocketed and the pretence on a green tax was exposed as just another cash cow for the Exchequer. The EU ETS has also added more cost to flying. But personally I feel that if Virgin had a good revenue and load on the route, they might have stayed. I remember when Lufthansa pulled out from Nairobi they had high loads but claimed their revenues were below acceptable average. Maybe the choice of aircraft Virgin uses is also an issue but I seen the main reason in the stiff competition. Kenya Airways and British Airways will be laughing all the way to the bank when Virgin ends flights in September because they will absorb that nonstop traffic and the big Gulf airlines and other European carries will also try to carve out market share from what Virgin is leaving behind.
Virgin notably was supporting wildlife conservation initiatives and had plans to invest in their own venture in Kenya but this is now also in doubt, and it can be expected that when supported projects mature there will be no further financial assistance forthcoming, unless as a private initiative by Sir Richard Branson.
A source close to Kenya Airways also just answered, allowing to complete this report: The UK is one of Kenya Airways biggest markets and very important for passengers and cargo. Kenya Airways has been increasing capacity on the London route and the problem until now was to get more slots at Heathrow. For sure the withdrawal of Virgin as a rival airline from the route will benefit KQ considerably but it is also a negative bit of news for Kenya as a country. They are not saying but maybe they were worried about the elections coming up and that might have influenced them also in this decision. Our economy is strong here in Kenya, and while tourism is struggling to match last years record results, our boys and girls at KTB are working the globe to find new markets and bring tourists from say China or India. For sure Virgin will be missed by many here in Kenya because the airline promoted the destination strongly and that will be our all loss when that stops.
For friends of Virgin, the time to sample them is clearly now running out as in 4 months time they will no longer be seen in the skies above Kenya, as the last inbound flight leaves London on September 23rd and then returns with a last load of passengers to the heartbroken waves of their staff and friends on September 24th.
Watch this space for breaking and regular aviation news from East Africa.