After 99 days of shutdown, the Kenyan air space finally opened Wednesday, July, 15th 2020 for domestic flights which were officially launched at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), presided over by Cabinet Secretary for Transport, James Macharia.
President Uhuru Kenyatta had a fortnight ago, ordered that local flights resume in a bid to revive the Kenyan economy which has been hit hard by the Corona Virus pandemic. However, one of the major concerns hovering around the resumption of the flights was the safety of passengers and crew as planes move from one point to another.
The Kenya Airports Authority and other stakeholders in the sector had insisted that as a matter of urgency and for the safety of everyone, all measures had to be put in place before aircraft could be cleared for take-off to any destination across the country. Some of the measures include wearing of facemasks at all times while at airports and airstrips, temperature checks, and social distancing before boarding.
And it is the latter that had elicited mixed reactions from Kenyans, with some questioning the rationale behind allowing passengers to sit closely in an aircraft while the same is not allowed in public transport vehicles and even the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
According to Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka, aircrafts are designed in such a way that it is safer to sit closely next to each other than in any other mode of transport, and even in a hospital environment. Kilavuka opines that air circulation in the cabin is near perfect, hence, it is fresh for everyone.
“The way the aircraft is designed in terms of air circulation and filtration system is even better than the hospital environment, and even in terms of design, the way the seating arrangements are, you almost have a shield between you and the person seated in front of you,” said Kilavuka.
He however emphasized the need for strict adherence to other preventive measures such as wearing facemasks at all times while aboard a plane even though he believes that the risks of transmission in the cabin are significantly reduced.
The way the manufacturers have designed air circulation is that it moves from up going down and out through filters, so it has reduced the risks. Indeed, there might be some risk between people sitting next to each other but remember we are requiring people to also wear face masks,” Kilavuka added.
Kenya Airways launched its local flights on Wednesday with two flights per day on the Nairobi – Mombasa route while one flight per day set for Kisumu – Nairobi route.
“We came up with a robust protocol that would ensure that as far as possible you do not have a chance of catching the Corona Virus in the airport or aviation ecosystem,” said Gilbert Kibe, Director General of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.
In May 2020, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) said in an economics chart that social distancing would cripple most airlines despite the types of aircraft or capacity.
“Depending on the aircraft type and the seat configuration, social distancing could reduce the available seat capacity by 33-50%. And when such policies are pursued, the seat load factor of an aircraft is artificially capped,” read the IATA chart, in part.