Kenya Airways finds itself once again entangled in a diplomatic aviation dispute, this time with Tanzanian civil authorities, as Nairobi rejects Air Tanzania’s request for fifth freedom rights.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has declined Tanzania’s plea to operate direct cargo flights from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport to a third country, prompting the aviation regulator to enforce sanctions on Kenya Airways effective January 22.

In aviation parlance, the grant of third freedom enables an airline to operate flights from an airport other than its home base to a foreign destination.

Generally, airlines are obligated to return to their hub before venturing into another country, unless governed by an air bilateral agreement allowing for fifth freedom.

The resistance to opening up African airspace persists, with numerous carriers safeguarding their national interests against potential competition.

Tanzania holds strategic importance for Kenya Airways, operating an extensive 33 weekly flights to both Julius Nyerere International Airport in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar.

Air Tanzania Company Limited (ATCL) has recently expanded its fleet with the acquisition of the Boeing 767 Freighter, aiming to leverage this high-capacity aircraft for broader connectivity.

This episode marks another chapter in the ongoing aviation tensions between Kenya and Tanzania. In 2020, Tanzania barred Kenya Airways from its airspace, citing Kenya’s exclusion of Tanzanians from a list of countries exempt from quarantine restrictions.

The Tanzanian authorities cite Kenya’s current denial as a violation of Section 4 of the 2016 Memorandum of Understanding on Air Services, stressing the principle of reciprocity.

“This decision is based on the principle of reciprocity, following the refusal by the Kenyan authorities to approve ATCL’s cargo flights despite the clear provisions of the MoU,” said TCAA Director General Hamza Johari.

The abrupt suspension of Kenya Airways’ flights is poised to have a substantial impact on passengers commuting between the two nations, should Tanzania go on with the planned suspension.

gandae@businessdayaffrica.org