United Arab Emirates (UAE) carrier Emirates Airline will follow its hub rival Qatar Airways in introducing a third daily flight into Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, to maximise its connecting traffic in and out of East Africa. The additional flight will come online from June 1, 2017 and will strengthen the airline’s position as the largest intercontinental airline at Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Emirates will be one of only three carriers to offer three daily flights on an intercontinental route into East Africa, alongside Qatar Airways on the Doha – Nairobi and Ethiopian Airlines on the Addis Ababa – Dubai routes. Saudia also offers three rotations per day between Jeddah and Addis Ababa but these do not currently operate every day of the week.
The new flight will, according to Emirates, give customers “greater flexibility and choice” when planning their travel and also underscores Emirates’ “commitment to Kenya and confidence in the route”. The airline first launched services in October 1995 and this has become one of its busiest air corridors in and out of Africa over the past 20 years.
While Qatar Airways serves Nairobi with single-aisle A320 equipment, Emirates utilises larger widebodies. As with its other two daily flights between Dubai and Nairobi, the airline will also use the Boeing 777-300ER on this additional flight. In a three class configuration with eight private suites in First Class, 42 lie-flat seats in Business Class and 304 spacious seats in Economy Class it will bring almost 5,000 additional seats onto the city pair each week and bring its inventory to just under 15,000 seats.
The new flight, ‘EK717’, will become the first of the three daily departures from Dubai leaving at 01:40 and arriving in Nairobi at 05:40. Transfer data shows that this flight will connect within a three hour window with Emirates’ arrivals from India, the UK and many European countries such as France, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Netherlands and Italy to connect to the Nairobi flight within three hours.
The return service, ‘EK718’ has also been conveniently scheduled for transfer traffic. It will depart Nairobi at 07:10 and land in Dubai at 13:15, ahead of Emirates’ afternoon European flights and its fourth daily flight to New York, a popular destination for Kenyan travellers.
The airline’s existing schedule on the route comprises ‘EK719’ and ‘EK721’ departures from Dubai at 10:25 and 16:00 and ‘EK720’ and ‘EK722’ return services out of Nairobi at 16:35 and 22:45.
Alongside the passenger demand, the large bellyhold capacity of the 777-300ER will enable Emirates to deliver a further 16 tonnes of additional cargo capacity on the route for Kenya’s main export products such as flowers, fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as key imports such as mobile phones, pharmaceuticals and readymade garments, amongst others.
UPDATE - It has subsequently emerged since this story was published that the Kenyan Government has now blocked the plans of Emirates to operate this third daily flight to Nairobi from Dubai, a move described as "surprising" by the carrier.
The government has withdrawn commercial aviation rights for the flight, saying that it intends to review the bilateral air service agreement in place between the UAE and Kenya.
Local media said Transport Principal Secretary Irungu Nyakera has written to Emirates to inform them of the decision regarding the third daily flight. "Our earlier approval for flight EK717/718 is subsequently withdrawn...The republic of Kenya is unable to grant a third daily passenger frequency to Emirates Airline before the review," Nyakera was quoted as saying in the letter.
In the last year (12 months to November 2016), Emirates carried over 107,000 annual bi-directional O&D passengers between Dubai and Nairobi, two thirds of the total 162,000 passenger local market. This equates to around 145 PPDEW of a 220 PPDEW point-to-point market. But, data from the AirVision Market Intelligence tool from Sabre Airline Solutions shows that Emirates carried an estimated 455,000 total passengers on the route during the 12 month period, almost 625 PPDEW, highlighting the strong transfer flows.
Based on this data almost three in every four passengers being carried on the route by Emirates are beginning or ending their journeys at a different location. But where are they flying? Well, a closer analysis of the data identifies some of the key traffic flows are in and out of Europe, North America and the Indian sub-continent.
Focussing only on the Nairobi – Dubai leg, local traffic accounted for 21.6 per cent of demand during the last year, with beyond demand generating a massive 73.2 per cent share, behind demand a 1.0 per cent share and bridge traffic, connecting at either end of the route 4.2 per cent.
With limited feed in Africa, the Kenyan capital was the largest single source market with a 94.8 per cent share of the one-way demand but there were also small flows domestically from Mombasa (4,000 passengers) and internationally from Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (1,400 passengers) and Pemba in Mozambique (1,300 passengers).
Only around one in five of these passengers are ending their flights in Dubai, with 77.4 per cent of passengers connecting on to another destination. The largest flows this past year have been to London Heathrow (12,300 passengers), New York (8,500 passengers), Beijing (5,500 passengers), Delhi (5,100 passengers), Ahmedabad (4,400 passengers), Mumbai (4,400 passengers) and Washington (4,300 passengers).
Interestingly, despite Qatar Airways’ own triple daily operation from Nairobi into its Hamad International hub, Doha was the tenth largest destination market on Emirates’ flights from the Kenyan capital during the past year and a market of around 3,700 passengers, according to the data.
It is a similar demographic on the Dubai – Nairobi leg, albeit local traffic accounted for a larger 25.3 per cent share of demand, with the behind demand arriving at Dubai International Airport responsible for 70.0 per cent of passengers, beyond demand 1.3 per cent and bridge traffic 3.5 per cent.