Kenya Airways first flight: 4 February 1977

Today, Kenya Airways marks 36 years of flight operations. The first flight of Kenya’s flag carrier took place on 4 February 1977, two weeks after the government of Kenya decided to form its own airline following the disbanding of East African Airways.

5 February 1977: A Boeing 707 operated by Kenya Airways arrives into Mombasa from Nairobi. This was the first Nairobi – Mombasa flight of the newly formed airline following the disbanding of East African Airways. Photo by Steve Fitzgerald.

5 February 1977: A Boeing 707 operated by Kenya Airways arrives into Mombasa from Nairobi. This was the first Nairobi – Mombasa flight of the newly formed airline following the disbanding of East African Airways. Photo by Steve Fitzgerald.

Kenya Airways was formed on 22 January 1977. Political differences between Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania had led to the breaking up of the East African Community. This meant that East African Airways, which was collectively owned by the three states, had to be disbanded.

Kenya Airways had only six aircraft when it was launched – four inherited from East African Airways and two leased from British Midland Airways.

The airline has since been privatized, with its fleet and route network growing significantly. Kenya Airways now has 41 aircraft flying to over 50 destinations across the world.

“Our 36th anniversary is an opportunity for us to celebrate the achievements that we have had so far, learn from our experiences, and re-energize for the future,” said Titus Naikuni, Kenya Airways Chief Executive Officer.

Over the years, Kenya Airways has achieved several key milestones that include striking a strategic partnership with KLM in 1995, issuing an Initial Public Offering in 1996 and the Rights Issue in 2012.

The 36th anniversary comes as the airline implements its 10-year growth plan known as Project Mawingu (Clouds). The plan aims at increasing the fleet to 119 aircraft, besides increasing the number of destinations from 58 to 115 routes by the end of 2021.

In its history, Kenya Airways has operated a variety of aircraft. These include Boeing 707, 720, 737 and 757. In the 1980s and 90s, Kenya Airways operated several Airbus A310 widebody aircraft. At one point, the airline had at least one Douglas DC-8. For domestic and regional flights, Kenya Airways flew DC-9, Fokker F-27 and F-50 aircraft.

Today, Kenya Airways has an all-jet fleet consisting of Boeing 737, 747, 767 and 777. The 747 is used for cargo flights. In addition the airline has invested heavily in Embraer E-170 and E-190 aircraft for domestic and regional flights. Kenya Airways has an order for 9 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, the first of which was expected in 2010 but this has been postponed to 2014.

Kenya Airways has lately been experiencing its share of turbulence. The airline is in court with the workers’ union over a decision in August 2012 to lay off hundreds of staff. Last November, the airline announced the second highest loss in its history – Kshs 4.7 billion (US$55.3 million). Kenya Airways attributed the losses to persistence of the Euro zone crisis, insecurity at home that discouraged international travellers and exchange rate fluctuations.

In October 2012, pilots went on a go-slow, disrupting scores of flights. The pilots’ union declared publicly that it has no confidence in the management of the airline. Meanwhile, the airline’s reputation was battered by a series of street demonstrations by aggrieved staff.

Kenya Airways’ decision to outsource some of its functions has added to the acrimony. Another plan to start a low cost subsidiary known as Jambo Jet has muddied the waters even more.

The airline is making significant inroads in Africa, but is facing stiff competition on routes to Europe and Asia. The competition mostly comes from Middle Eastern carriers.

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