Transport

Politicians now splash millions on choppers in hunt for votes

politicians

The chopper that is being used by Igembe South MP Mithika Linturi to campaign for Jubilee Party lands at Riverside in Timau. PHOTO | PHOEBE OKALL | NMG

A day in the life of a suave politician can be quite interesting in the countdown to the August 8 elections.

Picture an early morning delegates meeting in Mombasa, a lunch time rally in Nyeri and a fundraiser dinner in Kisumu, all in one day.

The 2017 campaigns depict life on the fast lane, masked by speed and status symbols as leading politicians strive to outdo each other. A key budget item and one that the political class cannot afford to ignore is transport, a roaring helicopter that occasionally pierces through the peaceful skies as they transverse the country seeking votes.

Branded helicopters have, all of a sudden, become a must-have for key politicians, replacing the huge fuel guzzlers as the aspirants up their supremacy battles.

Aside from the ultimate political statement, the air machines are preferred for their speed which is a convenience for politicians to shuttle across the country.

The politician has to be in Parliament to legislate and be in the countyside, probably on the same day, to marshal support.

The flamboyance that comes with the political statements does not come cheap, it comes at a huge cost.

Northwood Company chairman Raval Guru said demand for choppers this year is higher than it was in 2013, the last time the country held a General Election. While directors of the company which leases helicopters have been approached by many politicians, no contract has been signed yet.

“We ask for an unstipulated upfront down payment before getting into any agreement. It’s a precaution for us lest the politician fails to honour his end of the bargain,” said Mr Guru.

Branding and re-branding a helicopter upon hiring comes at a cost of Sh3 million while flying it costs Sh175,100 ($1700) per hour.

Keeping the helicopter on the ground also attracts charges of Sh10,000 per day.

Northwood planes consist of three helicopters which Mr Raval says are equipped with tracking devices that can be monitored and accessed from any device via the Internet.

Stakes in the August 8 General Election are high going by revelations by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) that politicians own half of the registered choppers in the country.

Kenya had a total of 86 helicopters and more than 100 trained pilots as at April 2017, according to the aviation regulator.

A number of politicians own choppers which they lease out, as was evident during the party primaries. That President Uhuru Kenyatta owns a number of choppers is an open secret.

Battle of Billionaires

One the most popular among his fleet is the 5Y JNM which was leased and branded by Kirinyaga Women Representative Purity Ngirich during the party primaries.

Business tycoon and former Mathira MP Ephraim Maina owns three choppers.

He is currently eyeing the Nyeri Senator’s seat, which has turned out to be a battle of billionaires.

Deputy President William Ruto has three choppers which he hired out to Uasin Gishu gubernatorial aspirant Bundotich Zedekiah Kiprop (Buzeki) during the party primaries.

Though Buzeki lost in the primaries, he has committed to give it a go as an independent candidate during the August 8 polls.

Former Prime Minister and National Super Alliance (NASA) presidential candidate Raila Odinga owns a Eurocopter, which he has been using during visits to counties.

Other elite politicians who own choppers include NASA co-principal Musalia Mudavadi, Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and Nairobi gubernatorial aspirant Peter Kenneth.

The rest include Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, former minister Simeon Nyachae, and renowned politician Nicholas Biwott.

Early in April, KCAA warned helicopter operators that they risk losing their licences or a fine of up to Sh1 million for safety breaches, including fitting planes with modified colours and banners — a move that is set to hit politicians hard.

KCAA said that night operations without Instrument Fly Rule (IFR) authorisation for both pilot and helicopter operator, as well as hoisting of banners on aircraft without permission from the agency, is against aviation regulations.