Kenyan firm gets licence for charter flights to China


Kenya Civil Aviation Authority expanded Phoenix Aviation’s licence allowing it to operate chartered flights to Asia. Photo/FILE

Hong Kong exchange-listed logistics firm Frontier Services Group’s (FSG) plans to offer chartered passenger and cargo flights to China have got a major boost after the Kenyan aviation regulator granted its associate company a licence to fly to Asia.

FSG, whose board chairman is former US Navy Seal Erik Prince, has substantial shareholding in Kenyan company Phoenix Aviation.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) on Friday expanded Phoenix Aviation’s licence allowing it to operate chartered flights to Asia.

“It opens up new destinations in Asia for Phoenix Aviation’s specialised medical evacuation services,” said FSG in a statement.

“Phoenix Aviation sought to allow themselves the flexibility of serving the Chinese State-owned Enterprises that FSG works with.”

Mr Prince, 44, is the founder of Blackwater— the controversial US defence contractor that at one time came under fierce criticism over its operations in Iraq.

FSG chief executive Gregg Smith said in an earlier interview the company was targeting Chinese mining firms with operations in Africa as major clients for its logistics services.

Mr Prince acquired a 49 per cent stake in Phoenix Aviation in April.

The KCAA notice published on Friday said Phoenix’s services will be “based at JKIA and Wilson Airport.”

The aviation regulator said the variation of the Phoenix Aviation licence takes “immediate effect.”

The licence positions FSG strategically to tap business from resource-hungry China whose companies are scouring the African continent for oil, gas and minerals.

Mr Prince, through his Africa-focused venture Frontier Service Group Ltd, invested $14 million (Sh1.2 billion) in Phoenix Aviation, making it his second major deal in Kenya, having acquired a 49 per cent stake in Kilifi-based Kijipwa Aviation last year.

“We are well acquainted with a number of Chinese state-owned and private businesses operating in Africa,” FSG said in a statement.

FSG was formerly known as DVN Holdings Limited and changed its name to Frontier Services Group Limited in March 2014 through regulatory filings to the Hong Kong bourse.

FSG is eying a slice of the oil and mineral wealth in Kenya and Africa through provision of passenger and freight services to oil and mining companies transporting staff, machinery and spare parts to remote areas such as Lokichar and Lokichoggio in Turkana.

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Mr Smith told the Business Daily that the company plans to have a fleet of 25 aircraft delivered in Kenya by the end of the year to offer specialised aviation services, including aerial survey of installations such as oil pipelines.

Mr Smith disclosed that the firm would specifically target Chinese companies doing major infrastructure and mining deals in Africa.

“We have had discussions with several Chinese State-owned-enterprises in Beijing, they like the fact that we have surveillance capabilities,” said Mr Smith told Business Daily in March.

He added that the firm has an $85 million (Sh7.3 billion) cash outlay to aggressively grow its African aviation services business, which will be run from Nairobi.

The Wilson Airport-based Phoenix Aviation has a fleet of 14 planes including four Citation Bravo C550s, four Beechcraft King Air BE200s, two Grand Cessna Caravan 208Bs, a Citation Excel C560, a Beechcraft King Air BE350, a McDonnell Douglas MD 83 and a Eurocopter AS350 B3.