Qatar Airways will launch direct flights to Kenya’s second biggest city Mombasa in December in a move that steps up competition for domestic carriers.

The four-times weekly service between Doha and Mombasa will be Qatar Airways’ second Kenyan destination, in addition to existing flights to Nairobi.

They will be operated with an Airbus A320, with 12 business class and 120 economy class seats, with a flight time of just over six hours.

The State-owned airline joins international carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines, Turkish Airlines and RwandAir, which currently fly directly into the coastal city.

Their operations are seen to pile pressure on Kenya Airways (KQ) , which until recently dominated the international transfers between Nairobi and Mombasa.

Unlike these carriers, KQ has to pass through its Nairobi hub before proceeding to Mombasa, making Qatar’s December entry a competitive threat to its business model.

Mombasa is Kenya’s main coastal tourist destination and a popular gateway to the Kenya’s white beaches and coral reef diving.

The cosmopolitan city has also become a popular destination for international tourists thanks to its diverse cultural mix and old town charm.

Ethiopian Airlines announced in June it will fly to Mombasa twice daily, further raising the stakes for KQ.

Kenya signed the open sky agreement to improve connectivity across the continent and make it more affordable, which has seen the national carrier face tougher competition on its backbone African routes.