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KCAA suspends licenses of two airlines over safety concerns

Gilbert Kibe
KCAA Director General Gilbert Kibe. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has suspended the licences of two airlines citing safety reasons.

Director General Gilbert Kibe told MPs on Tuesday that after inspection, Safe Air Company and Adventure Aloft stand suspended and should not be used by Kenyans.

Mr Kibe also told the National Assembly Transport and housing committee that Dash 8, an aircraft belonging to Silverstone, has also been suspended for seven days.

“They cannot operate until we come up with a report on what happened that led to the fall off of the wheel,” Mr Kibe said.

Mr Kibe, however, clarified that other fleet of Silverstone planes continue to operate normally as they have been inspected and found to be safe.

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Mr Kibe and other aviation players were invited by the David Pkosing-led committee over the rising cases of air accidents in the country.

The meeting aborted last week after KCA wrote requesting for more time.

MPs, however, called for a comprehensive report of air accidents in the last decade. The legislators said that KCAA should not only single out one airline. Mr Kibe said they are currently conducting safety audit of all airlines.

There has been an average of an aircraft mishap every month within the Kenyan airspace in the past 22 months, according to a report, as the general safety of the country’s aviation industry comes under intense scrutiny.

This comes even as the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) rates Kenya’s air safety record as ‘commendable’ with a 78 per cent score in the last released results of 2017.

The score ranked Kenya at position 67 globally and seventh in Africa after South Africa, Mauritania, Togo, Egypt, Gambia and Madagascar.

Beneath this seemingly good record is an industry that insiders say continues to threaten the safety of passengers as regulators, airline operators and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) look the other way on issues that could be the difference between a safe flight and an accident.

Mr Kibe said the recent incidents “are isolated and investigations have been launched”.

Emergency landing

The KCAA boss had been invited alongside Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) management after two planes belonging to Silverstone Airlines recorded emergency landing incidents in a span of three weeks.

Mr Gitari told the MPs that Sh350 million had been budgeted to refill the gaping potholes on the runway at the Wilson airport.

The frequency and sometimes the casualties involved put the aviation sector regulator, KCAA, on the spot over the quality of inspections they do and the extent to which they enforce laws and regulations regarding acquisition of Air Service Licences and maintenance of the aircraft.

According to a report there were 28 reported incidents and accidents from January 3, 2018 to October 29, translating to an incident or accident every month.

Two of the accidents involving an aircraft operated by EASAX (5Y-CAC Cessna Caravan) and a private aircraft (5Y-BSE) resulted in a combined 15 fatalities over that period. The EASX aircraft had left Kitale on the fateful day – June 5, 2018 – to Nairobi but crashed in the Aberdares, killing 10 people after the crew changed route due to bad weather.

On the other hand, the private Cessna aircraft killed five people. “The aircraft was found to have crashed in a rural area in Londiani on the edge of a plain, fenced, slightly downward-sloping farm field,” the report notes.

The state of aviation safety in the country has drawn renewed interest after recent incidents involving Rudufu Air, Silverstone Air Services and Safarilink, budget airlines that operate several domestic routes from Wilson Airport.

On October 11, a Silverstone aircraft (5Y-IZO) that was departing for Lamu crashed at Wilson Airport. It had five crew and 50 passengers. There were no fatalities. There was another incident on October 27 when a Silverstone aircraft (5Y-SMT) clipped an EASAX aircraft at the ramp at Wilson Airport.

On October 28, another Silverstone aircraft (5Y-BWG) lost a wheel on take-off from Lodwar. The aircraft made an unscheduled landing at the Eldoret International Airport where it had been diverted.

A day after the latest Silverstone incident, a Safarilink aircraft, a Cessna Caravan, veered off the runway.

On October 11, a passenger plane, operated by Rudufu Air, skidded off the runway and got stuck in the mud at Takaba Airstrip in Mandera West.

“The regulator is asleep. Given the number of incidents we have had, it is now for you as the ticket buyer to make a choice between safety and affordability,” the operator said.

Budget airlines

According to the report, while most of the incidents have involved budget airlines, most of which carry out their operations from Wilson Airport, the national carrier, Kenya Airways, from its base at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), has had the highest number of incidents, together with Silverstone.

KQ, as it is popularly known, has experienced three mishaps in the period under review. On February 12, a KQ flight from JKIA to Johannesburg, South Africa, with 142 passengers and 10 crew, was diverted to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, after the left engine overheated, forcing the crew to shut it down.

On June 17, a KQ plane from Mombasa to Nairobi suffered yet another engine shutdown. “The aircraft returned to Mombasa for a safe landing about 25 minutes after departure.”

Then on October 4, a KQ flight from Nairobi to Dar es Salaam had oxygen masks released and the plane returned to JKIA some 45 minutes after departure.

Safarilink, Phoenix, jetways, EASAX and Fly540 have had two incidents/accidents each over the period.

With regard to air safety in the country, KAA for instance has been accused by operators of neglecting the condition of runways in the small airports. A plane belonging to Rudufu Air recently got stuck at Takaba Airstrip in Mandera following heavy rains.

In August, a Fly 540 plane aborted take-off after one of its wheels got stuck in a pothole at Manda Airstrip in Lamu.

Insiders however say that due to cut-throat competition in the cargo and passenger business, some airlines have resorted to shortcuts in the maintenance and operation of their aircraft.

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