The contribution of air travel to the economy is sluggish even as the number of domestic passengers and volume of cargo transported shrinks, reveals a Nation Newsplex analysis of air travel data.
Air transport’s contribution to Kenya’s gross domestic product fluctuated between 0.3 percent and 0.4 percent in the past five years. During the same period, the output from the sector jumped by more than a third to Sh183.1 billion in 2017 from Sh131.4 billion in 2013.
The increase in earnings was partly due to international passenger arrivals and departures which rose steadily for the second year, increasing by six percent to 6.1 million in 2017 from 5.7 million the previous year, according to the Economic Survey 2018.
While there was an upswing in international arrivals in the first half of 2017 over the previous year, the numbers fell in the second half, largely due to uncertainties around the prolonged electioneering period.
But the number of domestic passengers dipped slightly from four million in 2016 to 3.9 million last year.
As fewer Kenyans opt for local air travel and more airlines join the domestic market, competition in the subsector is stiffer.
This year alone has witnessed new players joining various domestic routes in the country. For instance, the Nairobi-Kisumu route had two new players – Britex Air Services and Freedom Airlines – while Safarilink has added the number of daily flights. The expansion has intensified competition with other carriers, such as Fly540, Jambojet and Kenya Airways that already serve the route.
Airports in Kenya handled a total of 10 million arriving and departing domestic and international passengers, as well as those transiting to other countries. This was an increase of three percent from 9.8 million in 2016.
Of these, two in three were international passengers, with an estimated three million being arrivals. In an election year traditionally marred by fewer visitors due to fears of political unrest, this was a surprise seven percent increase from 2.8 million international arrivals in 2016.
The number of international arrivals increased in the past five years, except for 2015, when it decreased by two percent to 2.6 million from 2.7 million in 2014. This was attributed to security concerns and travel advisories from some European markets.
The volume of cargo handled in the past four year has trended downwards except for last year, when cargo volumes increased by 17 percent to 291 million tonnes from 249.5 million tonnes in 2016. But the subsector’s improvement was short-lived. A year-on-year analysis shows that the amount of cargo handled in July 2018 dipped by 16 percent to 25,566 tonnes compared to 30,422 tonnes in July the previous year. The three main cargo handling airports − JKIA, Moi and Eldoret − recorded dips in cargo volumes.