A milestone was achieved on Sunday when Kenya Airways became the first East African airline to touch down on solid ground in the U.S.
And while the maiden voyage of the aircraft didn't garner many headlines among American media, it was certainly a big deal in Kenya, where a mass of journalists from the country were on hand to document the event.
The direct flight from Nairobi to New York, carrying 234 passengers clocked in at 15 hours 25 minutes and covered more than 8,520 miles, making it the seventh longest flight in history. Flight staff on board included 12 attendants and four pilots who took shifts commandeering the plane throughout the lengthy trip. Previous flights between the two cities would normally take up to 22 hours, due to connecting flights at stops in Europe and Asia.
The maiden journey, which consumed some 22,000 gallons of fuel, was full of pomp and pageantry as President Uhuru Kenyatta was on hand to flag off the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner before boarding the flight himself. Other dignitaries attending the event included officials from the United States Embassy, members of the Kenyan government and executives from Kenya Airways.
The trip, which started with an 11:25 p.m. local time departure from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, was uneventful with nothing unusual to report. But when the plane finally touched down at JFK International Airport at 2:45 p.m. local time, the whole cabin reportedly erupted in applause with passengers excited to be part of Kenyan aviation history.
The flight was made possible 10 years after Kenya signed a bilateral air services agreement with the U.S., but economic feasibility was always a stumbling block. But in recent years, major American corporations like General Electric, Google, and IBM have established regional offices in Kenya with more companies wanting to follow suit. Further, trade between the two nations has been increasing, according to the American Chamber of Commerce. Of note, transactions between Kenya and the U.S. jumped from $431 million in 2016 to $470 million in 2017 with 2018 projected to be even higher.