Airlines given free rein in lawless Somalia route

[PHOTO: COURTESY]
Some local airlines could have taken advantage of the lawlessness in Somalia’s airspace to exploit the country’s aviation rules as well as engage in what could endanger the lives of the crew.

At least three passenger aircraft registered by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) have continued to transport excess cargo to and within Somalia months after the regulator directed that only cargo-configured aircraft be allowed to transport goods.

Some of the photographs and videos in possession of Financial Standard show a non-configured Fokker 50 plane - a Dutch manufactured airliner that can carry up to 50 passengers over a distance of 2,000Km being loaded with cargo at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The aircraft, whose registration number is 5Y – MIS, while doing business within Somalia carried excess cargo weighing more than 7,000 kilograms for several days, a breach of Kenya’s aviation law.

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In another instance, the aircraft flew on August 14, 2018 with cargo - a service that was paid for on August 19, 2018 according to invoices seen by Financial Standard. Our investigation showed that the aircraft is owned by Silverstone.

 Skyward Express is also in the same business, which puts the regulator on the spot. At the heart of the ownership are Mr Isaack Somo, who operates Skyward Express and Jetways while Mohamed Abdi, is the chair of Skyward.

Mr Mohamed Somo operates Silverstone. Videos obtained by the investigative team show the planes carrying cargo weighing more than eight tonnes, which according to insiders, is above the permitted weight of five tonnes.

Flight plans

According to sources, most of the aircraft continue doing business in Somalia, ferrying cargo from one town to another in the war-torn country.

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“The truth of the matter, and this can be verified from the flight plans, these companies are using non-cargo configured Fokker 50 planes to ferry cargo, particularly miraa, to Somalia,” our source claimed.

Documents show that on July 23, 2018, another Fokker 50 5Y-SMX flew 5,620kg of cargo out of the country.

“This has been happening as early as February with the tacit knowledge of KCAA despite their own directive in January. There are even invoices showing some airlines enjoying doing cargo business despite the directive,” said the source. When contacted, the chairman of Skyward Express Mohamed Somo referred us to the regulator, whom he said was best placed to say whether his company was in contravention of the law or not. He said his company had since complied with the law.

We could not get hold of Isaack Somo of Skyward Express, and by the time of going to press, he had not responded to our text message. 

Kenya is a big exporter of miraa to Somalia -- a business the industry players put at a conservative figure of Sh5 billion. “KCAA called the directors of aviation industry to a meeting on January 28 and directed that all non-cargo configured Fokker 50 planes stop henceforth flying cargo out of the country,” the source said.

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“Reconfiguring a single Fokker 50 plane would take a minimum of six months at a cost of $70,000 (Sh7 million) and clearly, a considerate regulator would have factored in all these if it cares about its clients not unless, of course, there is an ulterior motive,” he said.

 Transporting cargo

In a recent separate interview, Kenya Civil Aviation Director General Gilbert Kibe said he was yet to receive the complaints, noting that the complainants should write to him directly so that it comes to the attention of the authority. “Tell your source to write to me that so and so is using passenger configured aircraft to transport cargo,” Kibe said at the time.

According to industry experts, the maximum cargo that can be carried by a passenger aircraft either in the forward or aft (near the tail of an aircraft) compartments is 1.8 tonnes, which would not be commercially viable to airlift to Mogadishu.

“In a non-cargo configured Fokker 50 plane, loading the forward or aft would not require a conveyor belt, as can be seen from the video, to load on the cabin,” the source said.

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According to the Kenyan complainants, big players get their way with cargo and once they get to Somalia they get good business because KCAA regulations do not apply there hence they miss out on opportunities.

To fly a charter plane to Mogadishu, a three-hour flight, costs about Sh1.2 million ($12,000) carrying five tonnes of cargo. Carrying only 1.8 tonnes would rake in about Sh430,000 ($4,320) - far less than what is needed to make the business commercially viable.

SomaliaKenya Civil Aviation Authoritylocal airlines