The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has said it expects around 40 more helicopters to be launched into the Kenyan airspace as politicians venture into the campaign period.
Addressing journalists during the agency’s media breakfast at Sarova Panafric hotel in Nairobi on Wednesday, KCAA director general Captain Gilbert Kibe said that helicopters were the preferred mode of transport for most politicians during campaigns because of their ease of landing.
“We are expecting another 40 helicopters for the campaign period as they are the preferred mode of transport for our politicians because you can land anywhere as it does not need a run way to do so,” said Kibe.
A number of politicians own choppers, which they lease out or use during an electioneering period.
They include President Uhuru Kenyatta, business tycoon and former Mathira MP Ephraim Maina, who owns three choppers, the same as Deputy President William Ruto.
Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga owns a Eurocopter, just as former minister Simeon Nyachae does.
Others who also own choppers in the country are ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, Nairobi governorship candidate Peter Kenneth, Baringo Senator Gideon Moi, and Nicholas Biwott.
He said that currently, 88 helicopters are registered with the authority but only 60 have been certified to fly either commercially or privately.
Politicians own half of the registered choppers in the country, he said.
“Currently we have 88 helicopters but only 60 have the certificate of air worthiness, a certification to show that they are able to fly whether privately or commercially,” he said.
Captain Kibe said that with the campaign period for the August 8 General Election officially open, greater activities were expected but warned of the threat posed by failure by pilots or helicopter operators to adhere to rules and regulations for air safety.
“With that greater activity brings much safety risks, so as KCAA, we are alert and we have to be assisted by the public to ensure that the rules and regulations of air safety are being complied with on a regular basis and not only sometimes,” Kibe said.
The KCAA boss warned against the rise of ‘James Bond’ phenomena during the campaign period and said that helicopter operators and pilots risk losing their licenses or being fined up to Sh1 million for safety breaches.
The breaches include fitting planes with modified colours and banners or letting party supporters hang on choppers or even flying at night without Instrument Fly Rule (IFR) authorisation for both pilot and helicopter operator.
“The main problem with helicopters is the James Bond types who hang on helicopter skids. This is an extremely dangerous thing that can lead to death.
“Recently we called all helicopter operators and stakeholders in helicopter aviation industry and we reminded them of the rules of helicopter operations in Kenya and warned them that if they break those rules we are going to penalise them,” he added.
He said that as an agency, they are charged with the responsibility to regulate the helicopter aviation industry and license operators of the helicopters, pilots and engineers.
"If you land somewhere you are not supposed to that is the pilot’s fault and we will deal with them.
“If you land in a restricted or dangerous place, if we get to know about it then we can penalise the pilot by either suspending, cancelling or revoking his license.
"We can cancel, suspend or revoke the air service licence, air operating certificate depending on how serious the offence is,” he said.