Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner finally left the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) for New York City, US, in a historic flight in Kenya’s aviation industry.
The plane left the airport at exactly 11.20pm, although it had been scheduled to leave at 10.45pm.
The plane was expected to touch down at the JF Kennedy International airport Monday at 1:25pm local time, completing a historic flight that will shave up to seven hours off the tortuous journey that usually involves long layovers in Europe or the Middle East.
Normal flights from Kenya to the US take up to 22 hours for the 11,849km between Nairobi and New York.
President Uhuru Kenyatta led senior government officials who arrived at the airport to flag off the inaugural direct flight from Kenya to the US.
Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma led the government delegation aboard the flight.
Several choirs entertained guests before its departure. Security was tight at the airport throughout Sunday evening to ensure no mishap arose.
Speaking shortly before the departure, President Kenyatta said that the direct flights will open up Kenya to the rest of the world.
“These flights are set to provide a seamless experience for business and leisure travellers alike. It will allow the world to taste Kenya’s diverse cultures and hospitality,” he said.
This is a big milestone in the flight history between the two countries, as normal flights from Kenya to the US takes up to 22 hours in a distance of 13,713km between Nairobi and New York.
However, passengers will save up to seven hours, as this flight will take 15 hours only.
Apart from Dr Juma, other senior officials aboard are Cabinet Secretary James Macharia, Kenya Airways chief executive Sebastian Mikosz and chairman, Michael Joseph among others.
Of the 234 passengers, 30 were in the business class while 204 will be in economy class. Those in the economy class paid Sh89, 000 for a return ticket, while the same costs Sh260,000 in business class.
And diverting from the normal flights, the plane will have four pilots, and 12 attendants. The plane will consume 85,000 litres of fuel in a one-way trip.
The adoption of the 787-8 Dreamliner for the flight is its unique make. According to manufacturer’s website, one of its best features is its great comfort.
The plane is also made of 50 percent composite materials, carbon fibre reinforced polymers that are both lighter and more durable than traditional aluminium.
Composite materials have been used before in passenger planes but not to this extent. They comprise both the wings and the fuselage of the 787.
The cabin pressure and humidity in the 787 are also higher than in other airplanes.
The 787 is 20 percent more fuel-efficient than similar-sized aircraft, which saves money and allows airlines to deploy it on long routes.
The achievement of this historic milestone has not come easy for the Kenyan airline. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) imposes stringent conditions on African airports for clearance to fly directly to the US.
Kenya first applied to be considered a Category 1 country in 2013, but the application was rejected.
A second audit in 2014 saw the rejection upheld, with the US authorities citing several non-compliance issues with Kenya premier airport. Among these that JKIA did not separate its arriving and departing passengers, that there were houses too close to flight paths, and that the airport was not fenced.
But in February last year JKIA got things right and the US aviation finally awarded it a Category 1 ranking, qualifying it to operate direct flights to the US.
Then, in September, Kenya Airways was awarded a permit to operate direct flights to the US, paving the way for last night’s inaugural flight.
Only eight other African countries have direct flights to the US, namely: Senegal, Ghana, South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Cape Verde.