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Airline operator now differs with regulator on grounding of flights

A section of Wilson Airport
A section of Wilson Airport. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Confusion reigns over whether a regional airline has defied the aviation regulator’s move to suspend its operations in the wake of air mishaps that led to the grounding of three operators.

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) on November 12 ordered Safe Air, Silverstone and Adventure Aloft to suspend operations as they awaited a review of their safety standards.

However, Safe Air, which has about five planes, has continued operating, arguing that it was yet to receive a formal notice from the authority.

“Our attention has been drawn by several articles published in social media and some local media houses that SAC (K) Ltd also referred to as Safe Air has been grounded by KCAA. We would like to assure our esteemed customers that the information is false, we continue to be operational,” Mohammed Noor, the CEO of Safe Air, said in a statement to the Business Daily.

Kenya’s aviation sector was rocked by mishaps involving at least three planes, prompting the regulator to launch an audit inspection of some of the carriers, especially those operating from Wilson Airport in Nairobi.

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This led to the order freezing the three airlines and an alert from the UK government warning its citizens against the use of planes that operate from Wilson Airport.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) issued a fresh travel guidance this month that asked Britons to review the safety records of airplanes — which mostly serve domestic and regional routes — before boarding.

Britain was the fourth leading source of foreign tourists to Kenya last year when earnings from the sector jumped 37 percent to Sh157 billion — which is the biggest increase in more than a decade. It brought in 184,002 tourists, equivalent of 9.09 percent of 2,025,206 arrivals, behind US, Tanzania and Uganda.

Yesterday, KCAA maintained that Safe Air was restricted from operations, and said it had opened investigations over the breach.

“I am waiting for a report from my team,” KCAA Director-General Gilbert Kibe told the Business Daily when asked to confirm the status of Safe Air.

The regulator lifted the suspension of Silverstone Air’s fleet of Dash 8 aircraft earlier this week.

The move came on the same day that the carrier announced that it would be rendering all its employees redundant on account of the suspension.

The airline had suspended all flights effective November 12 after one passenger was injured an accident last month and a separate incident in which another plane was forced to make an emergency landing after a wheel fell off.

A Safari Link plane carrying 10 passengers also veered off the runway after a tyre burst, leading to the closure of the airport for 30 minutes.

Frequent air mishaps involving Wilson Airport-based light aircraft have been on the rise recently, exposing the laxity in enforcing safety rules by the aviation regulator.

Passenger traffic at Wilson Airport rose by 27.8 percent to an all-time high of 528,000 in 2017, from 413,000 in 2016, official data shows. The airport is now Kenya’s second busiest.

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