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Virgin Atlantic Pulls Out of Kenya

May 16, 2012

Natalie Paris, The Daily Telegraph, May 16, 2012

Virgin Atlantic has announced it is withdrawing its services as a result of increasing fuel costs and rising Air Passenger Duty (APD).

Flights between Nairobi and London will be discontinued from September 24.

"Despite the best efforts of our employees, external factors including the high price of fuel, increasing aviation taxes in the UK and insufficient passenger numbers throughout the past five years have contributed to the decision," said Julie Southern, Virgin Atlantic's chief commercial officer.

"These are still challenging times for the airline industry and we have to deploy our aircraft to routes with the right level of demand to be financially viable."

Recent civil unrest and the threat of piracy had led some tour operators to Kenya to report a slump in visitor numbers.

Sir Richard Branson has strong links to Africa, owning a lodge in South Africa's Kruger National Park and being involved in the southern African Peace Parks Foundation.

Despite this, the business mogul had already threatened to pull Virgin Atlantic out once before, following unrest after a disputed election in 2008.

Sir Richard warned Kenya's heads of tourism then, that if there was a repeat of the rioting and ethnic violence, he would have no hesitation in dropping the airline's service.

Since Virgin Atlantic launched in 2007, APD has more than doubled and fuel costs have increased by more than 50 per cent.

The airline's last flights will operate from London Heathrow on September 23 and from Nairobi on September 24. The full published schedule will operate until this point so passengers can continue to book flights throughout the next few months.

The Foreign Office recently relaxed its travel advice for Kenya, re-opening the beach resort of Lamu, where there had been a high-profile kidnapping, to ordinary holidaymakers.

It is currently warning against all but essential travel to coastal areas within 60 kilometres (37 miles) of the country’s border with Somalia, to Garissa district and to low income areas of Nairobi.

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