AIRSPACE

Turbulence that shook airlines, aviation industry in 2019

The biggest casualties were Kenya Airways which remains in losses and Silverstone whose services were suspended after several mishaps.

In Summary

•The sector witnessed more than three accidents and several mishaps across the country.

•Jambojet ends the year as one of the biggest winners after successfully expanding toKigali-Rwanda.

The Silverstone aircraft which was forced to make an emergency landing at Eldoret International Airport on Monday, October 28, 2019.
The Silverstone aircraft which was forced to make an emergency landing at Eldoret International Airport on Monday, October 28, 2019.
Image: MATHEWS NDANYI

The local aviation industry has recorded mixed performances in the year 2019 , in the wake of growing competition from regional and international carriers.

A number of airlines have undergone some turbulence with a select finishing the year strongly amid a tough operating environment.

This is despite the regulator—Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), and managements of the various local carriers putting their best feet forward to stabilize the sector and their respective operations.

Among the biggest casualties is national carrier—Kenya Airways which continues to struggle with huge losses even as its CEO Sebastian Mikosz's December 31, exit nears.

He is leaving the loss-making carrier five months earlier than the end of his three-year contract.

"It is my personal decision and I have obviously discussed it with the board," Mikosz said when he announced his exit in May.

The future for Kenya Airways remain bleak as it struggles with losses which increased to Sh8.56 billion in half-year 2019, compared to Sh4.03 billion in similar period last year, as operating costs swelled 15.6 per cent to close at Sh61.5 billion up from Sh53.2 billion last year.

“The increase was mainly attributed to the return of two Boeing 787s that had been sub-leased to Oman Air and fuel costs which marginally increased by five per cent due to increased flying,” Chairman Michael Joseph told investors.

Mikosz's more than 20 years of professional experience in managing private and public firms was touted as the experience needed to steer KQ out of financial turbulence, but few gains have been made as the year ends.

His Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) counterpart Jonny Anderson exited in September, before the expiry of his term in November, turbulent moment witnessed this year. His resignation ended his reign at the authority which began in July 2016.

KQ, as it is known by its international code, has also had a difficult time with its pilots whom this year it fell-out with on several occasions. Among the biggest stand-off was the plans to hire expatriates to bridge the pilot's deficit.

A protest by the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) saw KQ stopped from hiring foreigners, derailing its plans to fill in the pilots shortage that currently stands at above 100.

“We must encourage, support and promote our very own. Let us do our part in addressing unemployment in the country by embracing our people,” KALPA General Secretary Captain Murithi Nyagah told the Star.

Another setback for KQ was the failed plan to take over management of the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in a 30- year concession plan which backfired after protests by the Kenya Aviation Workers Union(KAWU) .

Parliament moved to probe the proposal which was later quashed.

Joseph has since said the airline would need up to Sh45 billion to return to profitability.

Mishaps

2019 will go down history as one of the times the country witnessed back-to-back mishaps which saw local carrier Silverstone suspended for a week.

Silverstone's incidences include the crashing of its aircarft at Wilson Airport on October 11, and the falling-off of a rear wheel of its aircraft on October 28, which occurred after take-off from Lodwar Airstrip.

Thank God no fatalities were reported during the incidences.

The move by KCAA to suspend it however dealt a blow to its operations forcing the airline to contemplate laying off its staff.

Silverstone Air Services Limited has become redundant. This decision has been made as a result of the recent decision by Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to ground the company’s fleet, thereby grounding our passenger services,” the management had told pilots.

It is not clear if the decision was revised but the airline is yet to fully resume operations.

Accidents

On June 22, KCAA reported two air accidents, one near Chyulu Hills and the other near Tiwi in the South Coast.

They involved an NGO owned fixed wing husky aircraft Registration number 5Y-BHL which crash landed about two kilometres from Chyulu Gate, and a privately owned Cessna 206 aircraft, registration number 5Y-WCA which also crash landed near Tiwi in the South Coast. Luckily, no fatalities were recorded.

KCAA has already forwarded the two incidents to the Air Accident Investigation Department for investigations,” director general Gilbert Kibe had said.

Elsewhere last month, the report on the chopper crush in Lake Nakuru was released. The pilot of the chopper which killed him and four others was said to have been drunk.

Captain Barbara Wangechi Kamau and her first officer Jean Mureithi were also this year blamed for the FlySax crush at Aberdares in June last year.

The two were blamed for professional negligence and poor communication that led to the crash.

The pilot failed to act on a warning sent by the terrain avoidance and warning system alerting them of a potential hazardous terrain situation,” a report released recently read in part.

State of facilities

The management of the JKIA came under scrutiny in July when concerns were raised on the airport's lavatories, access to clean water and congested waiting bays.

Expansion of Malindi Airport is also dragging into next next year.

Runways at Wilson Airport and Manda Airstrip also came under sharp scrutiny following a number of derailed aircrafts.

“The airport(Wilson) , which is mainly used for domestic and regional flights as well as charters is in need of serious attention. We are concerned about its state following several incidences,” Hasnain Noorani, PrideInn Group of Hotels managing director noted.

In Lamu, a fly540 plane got stuck in a huge pothole seconds after it commenced takeoff at the Manda Airport.

KAA has alluded it will be spending about Sh350 million to fix potholes at Wilson Airport, a move that could go along way in reinstating the facility's status.

Meanwhile, regional low-cost carrier Jambojet is ending the year stronger after successfully expanding its services to Kigali-Rwanda.

The carrier commenced daily return flights between JKIA and Kigali on November 25, a second regional route after Entebbe, Uganda launched last year.

Our aim is to grow our footprint across the continent,”CEO Allan Kilavuka said during the launch.

As the year ends, the local carriers will be forced to fight for their space amid growing competition from the region, among them the recently re-launched Uganda Airlines which is currently flying to Nairobi and Mombasa.

Meanwhile, KCAA has embarked on a reform strategy to increase oversight in the air transport sector, among them recruitment of more staff. According to director general Kibe, the authority requires at least 300 new employees to meet its oversight needs.