THE 50-minute Entebbe-Nairobi route, which is dominated by Kenya Airways (KQ), is one of the most expensive in the world.
Despite attempts by rival airlines to reduce the price, it has remained at an average of $300 (sh492,000).
The airlines are Ethiopian Airlines, Air Uganda, Victoria International Airlines (VIA), Fly540 and East African Airlines.
High fuel prices have further dented any hope of price decreases. Since 2002, the price of oil has jumped from $25 a barrel to more than $113 now. This has reduced airlines’ profits.
Since Uganda’s national carrier collapsed over a decade ago, KQ started dominating the route.
In 2005, Victoria International Airlines (VIA) with support from a South African company reached an agreement with Uganda to become the national carrier.
However, VIA’s first flight out of Entebbe to Nairobi was denied permission to land at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi. Sources said the cause was due to improper “document wording.” In less than two months, VIA was no more.
In mid 2006, Ethiopian Airlines complained to the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority over the delay to offer them landing rights at JKIA.
They were ready to charge $200 compared to KQ’s $366 but their request has not been granted yet.
East African Airlines was also forced to give up on the route after the Kenyan authorities frustrated its bid to get the popular early morning slot.
After those futile attempts, passengers still had some hope when Air Uganda ventured into the aviation industry last year. The airline was charging $199.
“I thought it would be a relief to us in business, only to find out that Air Uganda’s timings were not convenient,” Luther Bois, a businessman who frequents the route, said.
“If I can be in Nairobi by 6:00am, hold two meetings, one at 8:00am and another one at 2:00pm, and be back in Uganda at 6:00pm or 11:00pm on the same day, it is only Kenya Airways offering that. I am left with no choice but to bite the bullet,” Bois said.
In May, Air Uganda suspended the morning flight due to the high fuel prices and declining numbers. While Air Uganda was exiting, Fly540 came onto the scene the same month. It charges $158. But according to travel agents, travellers still prefer KQ because of its schedules, which are more convenient.
Kenya Airways also takes advantage of Jomo Kenyatta Airport as a regional hub, offering clients a variety of onward destinations into Europe, Asia and the rest of Africa. This means travellers would rather use one airline all the way from Entebbe than break up their trip between various airlines to save money.
However, KQ is notorious for frequent flight delays and cancellations.
“Operators willing to ply a route should have an understanding between the two countries. Normally, they should not have limitations, but the route seems to have issues from the Kenyan side,” a source at the Civil Aviation Authority explained.
In addition to the dominance on the Nairobi route, Kenya Airways is planning to beef up its regional flights. It is set to receive a new Embraer E170. The plane is expected to serve the domestic as well as regional routes like Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Zambia.
“The Embraer has a short turnaround time and low maintenance costs. Its fuel efficiency should enable us better maximise revenue during these turbulent times,” KQ’s chief executive officer, Titus Naikuni, said in a recent published interview.
Market experts predict that other new entrants will either pull out or increase fares if they are to stay in business because of the high fuel costs. They say KQ, which has a larger margin, has more leeway to keep prices steady in the medium-term.