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UK issues Wilson air travel alert over mishaps

Wilson Airport
Wilson Airport. PHOTO | KANYIRI WAHITO | NMG 

The United Kingdom has issued a travel warning to its citizens over the use of planes that operate at Wilson Airport in Nairobi following several mishaps.

In a fresh travel guidance, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) urged Britons to review the safety records of aircraft that mostly serve domestic and regional routes—ahead of boarding.

Kenya’s aviation sector has in recent weeks been plagued by incidents involving at least three planes, prompting a probe by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA)—the regulator.

“If you plan to charter a private aircraft, check with the company’s safety pilot about the condition of the aircraft and runways to be used. If the company has no safety pilot, find another company that does,” the FCO said in a statement on Friday.

“The airport is manly used for domestic flights, including charters. Be vigilant at all times when transiting airports.”

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

The latest incident took place last Tuesday and involved a SafariLink plane carrying 10 passengers which veered off the runway after a tyre burst, leading to the closure of the airport for 30 minutes.

Another mid-air scare occurred last Monday when an aircraft belonging to low-cost carrier Silverstone Air lost a tyre while taking off from Lodwar Airstrip in Turkana County.

Early this month, another aircraft operated by the same airline veered off the runway at Wilson Airport.

Passenger traffic at Wilson Airport rose by 27.8 percent to an all -time high of 528,000 passenger in 2017, from 413, 146 in 2016, official data shows. Traffic to the airport, Kenya’s second busiest, has increased by 53 percent to 100, 000 in 2017 from 65,000 in 2008.

Other countries could take cue from the UK travel advisory in what could hurt travel.

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 was 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.

But the UK tourists spend more per head compared to travellers from Tanzania and Uganda. The new advisory received support from the Kenya Aviation Workers Union (KAWU) with officials saying that there was need for KCAA to do more to enforce the quality of safety audits for airlines operating at Wilson Airport.

“KCAA should ensure strict compliance by air operators of all air travel regulations,” said KAWU secretary-general Moss Ndiema in response to queries from the Business Daily yesterday. KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe did not respond to our queries over the UK air travel advisory.

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