Kenyan pilots brave deadly Somalia skies

25 year old Brian Migwi airborne with a colleague. Photo/Monicah Mwangi
25 year old Brian Migwi airborne with a colleague. Photo/Monicah Mwangi

For three years now, Brian Migwi, 25, has been flying over what is described as the most dangerous airspace in Africa. As a group of pilots from Aeronav Air Services, these Kenyans have taken a big risk and confidently dominated the Somali airspace.

Migwi, who currently commands a Cessna Caravan, got his private pilots

licence when he was a 17 year-old Form 3 student.

“I never had a holiday while I was in high school. Every time schools closed, I would immediately start training at the Wilson Airport,” he said.

Migwi had developed an interest in flying while in Form 1 at Pioneer School in Muranga, which offered flying lessons.

While he was training, Aeronav, a sister company to the Kenya School of Flying, noticed his interest and gave him a job opportunity after he cleared his secondary education.

Aeronav would then get into a partnership with Salam Air Express, a Somali airline. Migwi was then asked to start flying within Somalia, an offer he took up when he was 22.

Migwi says the pilots experience many security threats in the line of duty, but he is quick to add that he is not ready to leave the volatile country for any other job.

“There are so many times I have asked myself: What keeps me here? And I never come up with a solid answer. I then came to the conclusion that this is my life. It’s not the life that I chose but the life that chose me, literally. I am not ready to leave Somalia, atleast not in the next four years,” he said.

According to him, flying in any other place wouldn’t be as exciting as Mogadishu is. “It’s fun here. The runway is messy, there is no control room, it’s not like Nairobi, where someone sees you while you are as far as Mombasa. You cannot land at night as there is no radar cabin. It’s a challenging environment but you make do,” he explained.

Such things, he says, keep him going. “I will continue flying here. I am only 25, so let me enjoy this craziness where each day is the same but again totally different at the same time. I would even fly here in my next life,” he joked.

As part of the pilots job, they have been flying to some of the most remote villages in Somalia, delivering medicine, food and sometimes medics for the Amisom troops.

“There are times when we are called upon to carry injured soldiers and take them to Mogadishu for treatment,” said Aeronav manager Charles Wachira, adding that they sometimes transport soldiers from one point to the other.

“Like this morning (last Wednesday), we transported medicine from the Red Cross to an area which had just been hit by al Shabaab,” Wachira said.

He also says business has been good, although there are areas for improvement. “As a whole, it’s been a good experience, despite security threats, poor infrastructure and aviation teething problems in this country.”

Wachira confirmed there is a huge demand for flights in Somalia and their crew is rarely on the ground. “We mostly operate three aircrafts at Aden Abdulle International Airport, flying from morning to evening to different parts of Somalia,” he said.

In flight, there are times they encounter people shooting aimlessly into the air, but luckily, none of their aircrafts have ever been struck.

“So yes, security here is an issue, but we have to perform our duties. Someone has to do it, and in this case, it happens to be us,” Migwi said.

Migwi’s worst experience came in 2012 when he had a puncture at a remote village some 241 kilometres northwest of Mogadishu.

The place, Huddur, was an al Shabaab hotspot.

“You can imagine the Loiyangarani of Somalia. I spent three days there, since even getting an engineer to come to my rescue was hectic. But I thank God I came out of it unhurt and even stronger.”

Despite the challenges, Wachira is proud of the role they have played in helping open up Somalia. “It feels good to be associated with something small that is growing. It gives a form of satisfaction,” he said, urging others who can help build Somalia, to give their input.