FOCUS-Kenya Airways Looks Upmarket for Financial Salvation

When Sebastian Mikosz took over as CEO of loss-making Kenya Airways last June, he immediately shut its outlet in Nairobi's downmarket Accra Road, which served thousands of small traders who fly to the Far East to buy cheap goods in bulk.

The move marked the beginning of an aggressive hunt for cost savings and premium passengers, after years of losses following a slump in tourism and large debts incurred to buy new aircraft.

Polish native Mikosz, who helped turn around flag carrier LOT Polish Airlines as its chief executive, needs to stem those losses before it can begin to pay down $2 billion of debt restructured in November to stave off the airline's collapse.

He told Reuters he plans to roll out a new economy plus class by the end of the year designed for business and wealthy leisure travellers, including growing numbers of American tourists and executives from dozens of Nairobi-based U.S. firms.

Coming first to wide-bodied planes, it will mean new seats with the same capacity by using space between them. "We are working on a pretty big reshape of the onboard experience," Mikosz said.

The airline also plans a direct route to the Indian Ocean luxury tourism island of Mauritius and the first direct flight from Nairobi to New York by any airline from October, a plan Mikosz said was known as the "$100 million project" for the revenue the daily flight is expected to bring in.

The U.S. route will compete with indirect flights from established players such as Emirates, British Airways a....

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