Saturday, Feb 28th 2015

Moi University set to graduate first pilots

Thursday, March 1, 2012 - 00:00 -- BY MATHEWS NDANYI
Moi University
Moi University Administration Block at main campus where the School of Environment is currently based

The School of Aerospace Sciences, which offers degree courses and owns three aircrafts, is the only one of its kind in East and Central Africa

When Prof Peter Torongei visited the vice chancellor of Moi University Prof Richard Mibei for a Christmas chat in 2008, little did he know that it would turn out to be a meeting that would give birth to a great idea for not only the university but also the entire East African region. As they talked under a tree at Mibei’s home in Eldoret, a plane flew above heading to the Eldoret International Airport and Mibei looked up to see the aircraft before he turned back to Torongei and talked out his heart about a dream to start a school of aerospace sciences to train pilots at Moi University.

Torongei thought that would be a tall order for the university but in fact it was the beginning of the great idea that has matured to reality giving birth to the first and only school of aerospace sciences offering degree courses in the East and Central African region. It’s a unique programme that has put Moi University at another level. As the university prepares to graduate its first two pilots trained at the school, Torongei and Mibei look back with pride as they remember how the idea they thought would be impossible has turned out to be one of the greatest initiatives ever undertaken by Moi University in its 20-year history.

At Mibei’s home, they agreed that Torongei would immediately think of how to put the idea into action and start the school to be based at Rivatex East Africa Ltd which is a textile firm bought by the university. It’s located in Eldoret town. “Mibei insisted on the idea and although I was still thinking of how to work on it, he asked me to be the dean of the school and the following day we visited Rivatex where he allocated me a single room from where I was to work out all plans,” says Torongei.

From that one room and within three years, today school has grown and owns three aircrafts for training students, an airstrip at Moi University main campus and the number of students undertaking aviation related courses including piloting has increased from eight at the start to more than 40 currently. Moi University is thus the only university owning aircrafts in the country. More than Sh500 million has already been spent on the school but Torongei says as the aircrafts fly in the air every day, the sky is now the limit for the school of aerospace sciences which was formally licensed by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority four years ago.

Torongei says although the school is still grappling with many challenges especially lack of resources to buy expensive training facilities, they are determined to develop the institution into a fully fledged school of aerospace sciences that would even one day produce international aerospace scientists. “I now believe that it’s possible for us to even produce scientists who will be able to visit other planets like the moon,” says Torongei. The school has three departments which handle the training programmes. They include the departments of flying studies, aerospace security and logistics and also the department of aviation electronics.

A professional piloting course is a very expensive five-year course that costs more than Sh6.5 million and few parents can afford it. The theory part is easier but when it comes to real piloting, it costs Sh15,000 per hour of training for smaller aircrafts and up to Sh44,000 for larger commercial aircrafts per hour. For one to fully qualify as a pilot for smaller aircrafts they have to fly for not less than 55 hours while for larger aircrafts one has to do more than 110 hours under training and with the cost of Sh15,000 and Sh44,000 per hour, the expenses are enormous.

The peak of the training is when a student pilot can make a solo flight and so far two students have made it to the air on their own. “For us it’s a dream come true when we see the students take to the air. It’s a great achievement for Moi University,” says Prof Mibei. At the end of successful training the piloting student acquires a Private Pilot Licence (PPL), a Commercial Pilot License (CPL) and Instrument Rating (IR) which is offered by KCA. Moi University hired about ten expert staff who run the school under Prof Torongei as the dean.

They include Captain Allan Ang’elei who is chief ground school instructor, Captain Caroline Nyambura who is chief flying instructor, Captain Linda Chemutut as quality assurance manager, Micah Wallala as aviation and human resource expert, Paul Tirop who is senior lecturer flying studies, Dan Odido in charge of security and logistics and Diana Chelang'at who is the marketing officer.

They all have a vision to develop the school into a world class training centre for aerospace science offering a variety of courses related to aviation and other aerospace sciences. “We want to move the school to the class of those schools known internationally and to do that we are committed to offering first class training to our students,” says Captain Ang'elei. The school is focusing on a variety of courses or programmes including aviation management, flight operations, safety and security, logistics and aviation electronics.

Ang’elei says they want to make aerospace science training friendly to the community by creating awareness on the courses within other education institutions in the area including secondary and primary schools. Nyambura, Chemutut, Wallala and Chelang'at and Ang’elei are highly trained experts at local and international universities and their dedication to work at the school of aerospace science is making the institution achieve greater strides quicker than was expected.

They have already done marketing for the courses they offer in Uganda and one of the students they have comes from Tanzania. “As we move on we also intend to go into other space components like training experts for unmanned space crafts. Our vision is to be the principal centre of knowledge and excellence in aviation and space science responsive to the current global aerospace demands,” said Torongei. Both the university and KCA examine the students at different levels. The university currently uses the Eldoret Airstrip as its hanger where the aircrafts are parked while training is done at the Eldoret International Airport.

The university was not allowed to use its airstrip at the main campus because it’s located in an area that would interfere with the flights path from the Eldoret International Airport. “We currently have the smaller aircrafts including Cessna 152s but for the larger commercial aircrafts we hire the 182s for training our students,” says Torongei who is not an expert in aviation but is a highly trained physicist specializing in optol electronics.

The school is ISO Certified and qualification for the variety of courses offered is quite high. For students who opt to specialize in piloting they must score a mean score of B plain and above with high grades in Mathematics, Physics, English, Chemistry and Geography in KCSE. Qualifying marks for other related courses including aerospace security and aerospace logistics are equally high. Not all students go for the piloting course because of costs involved.

Furthermore, the students who go for piloting have to undergo strict medical checks to confirm their mental and general health. Students must also provide details of who is paying fees for them and their backgrounds must be well known for security reasons. Captain Ang’elei says they use computer-based training but the school requires simulators which are used to train pilots in more advanced ways. A simulator costs more than Sh4 million and the school lacks resources to buy the equipments.

A simulator is made in the exact form of a plane cockpit with all control gadgets, but it’s fitted in a room for students to train before they move to the actual aircraft for practical training. The piloting students are most of the time based at the Eldoret International Airport where they try out their skills every morning and late evening because of Eldoret’s high altitude. For lower altitudes and other skills they fly to the Lodwar Airstrip.

One of the two students who have undertaken solo flights is Ali Said Ganzalla from Mombasa. “It was my childhood dream to become a pilot and after my KCSE I heard of this course at Moi University and asked my parents to enroll me because I had attained the necessary qualifications,” said Ali. He says the course is quite expensive for his parents but he has been receiving support through bursaries and he is now doing his final year. He says his initial solo flight was like a dream but when he landed back at the airport he was overjoyed that the dream was a reality. He followed up with many more solo flights to the delight of his trainers. “I have received quality training at this school and I am proud to be a student here,” said Ali.

Piloting is a very lucrative and marketable profession where jobs are guaranteed. Torongei says his ambitious plans for the school are unstoppable. The school needs three more planes and it's now partnering with similar colleges in the US and China which are willing to help upgrade the training at Moi. It’s also working closely with the East African Civil Aviation, Safety and Security Agency. Students from the school who qualify will be taken to Padoo in the US where one of the universities has offered practical exchange programmes. The school has attracted attention from many other international partners who are now seeking partnerships to develop aerospace science studies.

The aerospace school has generated a lot of interest among residents of Eldoret who marvel at how Moi University was able to come up with such a unique programme. Eldoret residents are happy to host the school in the town that is also known internationally as the home of the world’s top athletes. “The school of aerospace sciences has made Eldoret a really unique town in this country. We are working with the university to market the town globally as a centre of quality and unique training, athletics and even agriculture,” said Eldoret mayor William Rono.

Prof Mibei who is doing his second term as vice chancellor of Moi University is a very proud man. The planes owned by Moi University are labelled with the official colours of the institution and its logo. “We have the necessary abilities, manpower and capacity to match the world in such training,” said Mibei. He is proud that his vision to have the school of aerospace sciences at Moi University is no longer a dream but a reality. “We will fly even higher,” Mibei said.