Last updated on June 3, 2009 at 12:56 p.m.
Delta Air Lines Inc. has postponed indefinitely its planned Tuesday inaugural flight from Atlanta to Nairobi, Kenya.
Delta was notified Monday night that the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration would need more time to approve Delta’s flights to Kenya and one scheduled to start June 8 from New York-JFK to Monrovia, Liberia.
Delta said in a statement that it notified Homeland and TSA in October 2008 that it would be launching these new routes and one to Nigeria’s capital. The airline got word Monday night that the agency would need more time to review.
TSA issued a statement Tuesday saying it had approved Delta’s new route to Abuja, Nigeria, beginning June 11 but that the agency is denying service to Kenya because of “noted security vulnerabilities in and around Nairobi.”
Monrovia’s airport failed to meet international security standards, TSA said.
“TSA, along with key partners within the U.S. Government, assesses a credible threat to civil aviation in East Africa,” the agency said. “At this time, the current threat is too significant to permit these flights. TSA and its partners will continue to closely monitor this situation.”
Delta said it is contacting customers and re-scheduling them on routes offered by joint venture partners in Europe.
“Delta regrets any inconvenience to our customers caused by the postponement of our new direct service to Kenya and Liberia,” the airline said in a statement.
The Kenya inaugural was scheduled to leave Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport today at 4 p.m. and stop once in Dakar, Senegal, before crossing the continent to Nairobi, the capital of east Africa’s largest economy.
Reuters reported that Delta’s newest Africa flight was scheduled to touch down in Nairobi at 3 p.m. Wednesday. A ceremony including Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the U.S. envoy to Kenya and other officials was planned.
Kenyan Ambassador Peter Ogego had been scheduled to board the inaugural flight, an embassy spokesperson told GlobalAtlanta.
Homeland Security could not be reached immediately for comment.
The Kenya government seemed surprised at the cancellation and dissatisfied with Delta’s explanation in a statement issued on its Web site.
“The reasons for the postponement by Delta are still not very clear,” said Alfred Mutua, the public communication secretary for the government, in the statement. “The government of Kenya has complied with all the additional security measures requested by Delta, and Nairobi airports’ security is excellent.”
He went on to list the many international airlines that have service to Nairobi.
“We hope that Delta Air Lines will soon join those other airlines so as to capitalize on the growth in the airline travel industry in Kenya and the region,” Dr. Mutua said.
Students from Atlanta’s Ron Clark Academy were slated to go on the trip, and its choir was to perform at various venues in Kenya.
The academy cancelled its participation in the trip last week, saying that it has planned a trip to Japan on June 21.
“Logistically, it is in the best interest of our students to postpone our trip to Africa until the upcoming school year, and Delta has graciously agreed to accommodate this change in our schedule,” said Staci Lynch, external affairs director for the school, in an e-mail to GlobalAtlanta.
Delta said it remains committed to Africa. It currently operates routes to Accra, Ghana; Cairo, Egypt; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Lagos, Nigeria; and Dakar, Senegal.
Just this week Delta upgraded its service to Johannesburg to a nonstop.