Kenya, Tanzania talks over KQ flights ban hit stalemate

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Kenyan airlines, including the national carrier Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ, face a lengthier ban from the Tanzanian market as the two nations hardened their stance in a dispute over the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

KQ, alongside AirKenya Express, Fly540 and Safarilink Aviation, remain locked out the Tanzanian market for a second month now in revenge for a decision by Nairobi to retain Tanzania on the red list of nations with high risk of coronavirus cases.

Travellers from the countries listed as high-risk face a mandatory two-week quarantine in Kenya as part of measures meant to curb the spread of the virus.

Attempts to resolve the stand-off have not yielded fruit, with Tanzanian authorities maintaining that the ban on Kenyan airlines would only be reviewed if Kenya dropped its nationals from the Covid-19 red list.

But Kenya has stuck to its guns, saying that allowing free movement of persons from Tanzania would compromise the health and safety of its citizens.

“Tanzania wants Kenya to relax the Covid-19 restrictions before they allow the resumption of flights. However, we are still engaged in negotiation with the authorities there on the way forward and we are hopeful a solution will be found soon,” said Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) director-general Gilbert Kibe, who is leading the Kenyan delegation the negotiations.

President John Magufuli’s refusal to impose lockdowns or physical distancing measures and decision to halt the release of figures on infections since late April, has made him a regional outlier and caused concern among Tanzania’s neighbours and the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The lengthy ban from the Tanzanian market deals a major blow to Kenyan airlines, especially for KQ which is trying to re-coup losses from several months of Covid-related restrictions on local and international travel.

Rival Rwandair last week announced resumption of three flights to Dar es Salaam and Kilimanjaro via Nairobi—hoping to fill the gap caused by the ban on KQ and other Kenyan airlines.

Tanzania is a critical destination for KQ, which had planned two daily flights to Dar es Salaam and three weekly flights to the resort city of Zanzibar from August 1 when Kenya resumed international flights.

The plans, however, hit a wall after the Tanzania Civil Aviation Authority (TCAA) on July 30 barred KQ flights, citing the decision by Nairobi to exclude Tanzania from the list of countries whose nationals would be allowed entry under revised coronavirus control measures.

Prior to the ban KQ, which operates its regional hub from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi, had a permit to fly 14 times to Dar es Salaam every week, three times to Kilimanjaro and two times to Zanzibar, mostly ferrying tourists and business travellers.

With no end in sight for the tit-for-tat trade war between Kenya and Tanzania, the Kenyan airlines are likely to continue losing business opportunities—adding to the long list of firms that have fallen victim of diplomatic feuds between the two countries in the past four years.

Kenya and Tanzania have had bruising fights over work visa, taxes and market access rights for items such as sugar, milk and dairy products. This has affected bilateral trade between the two nations, prompting a series of meetings, including a summit in Arusha between November 12 and 16 last year to try to mend the frosty ties.