Gulf Air has now put in motion their final exit from Kenya, a year after the cessation of the airline’s Bahrain – Nairobi route, exiting the IATA ‘BSP’ reporting system in the country in the clearest indication that it will not return to East Africa in either the short or medium term.
The Bahrain-based airline launched its five weekly flights to Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JNIA) in July 2011. It then launched thrice-weekly flights to Entebbe, Uganda in December 2011, but abandoned the route just three months later in February 2012.
At the time the airline cited cost-cutting and a “shift resources to core markets” as its key motives, and it would appear that its Nairobi route has now fallen victim to the same needs, causing Gulf Air to fall back to its core markets in the GCC, the Indian subcontinent and Europe.
By contrast, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways and Air Arabia have recently strengthened their presence in Nairobi, Kenya and the wider East African region, making it unlikely that Gulf Air will have any incentive to return to the region again in the near future.
Bahrain is now the only Gulf country with no direct connections to East Africa.
However, Gulf Air is only the third airline to exit Kenya in recent months, after Britain’s Virgin Atlantic also stopped flights between London and Nairobi and low-cost South African airline 1Time withdrew its flights from Johannesburg to Mombasa, both due to financial constraints.
Emirates Airlines has been at the forefront of aggressive marketing strategies in Africa, and it recently offered free UAE visas to customers from both Kenya and Ethiopia.
Etihad Airways meanwhile launched a daily service to Dar es Salaam in December, providing the first direct flights between Abu Dhabi and Tanzania’s largest city, complementing the rapid growth in economic interaction between the UAE and Tanzania.
Kilimanjaro International Airport (KIA) is also experiencing remarkable growth — a development that CEO Mattijs Smith has largely attributed to the major deals signed with both Qatar and Etihad Airways.