updated 10/29/2007 5:44:35 PM ET 2007-10-29T21:44:35

Kenya wants to boost its tourism sector by offering its airlines a chance to run lucrative long-haul flights to the U.S. within two years, the head of the civil aviation authority said.

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No Kenyan airline has applied yet to fly to the U.S., but the East African nation plans to open the possibility for the future — by complying with international civil aviation standards and qualifying for the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration's "Category 1" rating.

"We believe by 2009 we should have achieved 100 percent compliance to international standards," said Chris Kuto, director general of the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.

Kenya has a burgeoning tourism sector and has been marketing to attract more American tourists, who currently must take connecting flights through Europe to reach Nairobi. Europe provides most of Kenya's tourists.

Last month, Delta Air Lines said it would begin in June to run flights to Kenya, from New York via the Senegalese capital, Dakar.

The United States demands that U.S.-bound direct flights come from countries with robust aviation authorities that guarantee the safety of their national airlines.

"Achieving 'Category 1,' it is not only a civil aviation issue. It also touches on security and (the country's) airports," Kuto said.

As of March, only five African countries — Cape Verde, Egypt, Ethiopia, Morocco and South Africa — had "Category 1" rating, according to the U.S. FAA's Web site.

Kuto said Kenya had the means and equipment for complying with international standards, but had trouble retaining qualified staff because government-level salaries were lower than those offered in the private sector. Currently, about 20 percent of technical positions in the aviation authority are unfilled.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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