Somalia-bound airlines complain of undercutting by rivals

By Stephen Makabila

Commercial airlines plying the Nairobi-Mogadishu route are engaged in a cutthroat competition for business that has considerably diminished due to the ongoing ‘Usalama Watch’ operation in Kenya.

Currently, there are six airlines having scheduled flights between the Jomo-Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia. Among the airlines include Jubba Airways, African Express Airways, Sky-World Air, East African Safari Air Express and Hijra Airways.

Uganda’s premier airline, Air Uganda also launched direct flights from Uganda to Somalia last year, signalling what could be the start of intense competition on an increasingly busy destination. The seventh local airline, Blue-Bird Aviation, operates scheduled and non-scheduled flights from Wilson Airport to Mogadishu, on top of three other airlines that operate chartered flights from Wilson Airport to Mogadishu. Most airlines flying to Mogadishu target Somali travellers, government officials, military personnel and a growing number of entrepreneurs from around the region seeking business opportunities in the new Somalia. The competition, however, is believed to have sparked dirty tricks by some business operatives, who want to paint rivals in bad light.

A chief executive of one of the airlines told The Standard rivalry for business had reached a state where some competitors were reporting others to State agencies on fabricated claims of flying in illegal aliens from Somalia.

“Such claims are baseless because all commercial flights from Mogadishu to JKIA first land in Wajir for inspection by Immigration, Intelligence, Customs officers, police and Kenya Airports Authority staff. The same inspection is done at JKIA when they finally land. How can a plane then bring in illegal immigrants from Mogadishu undetected?” posed the chief executive. “Anyone claiming illegal aliens come in through our airports is in effect claiming that State arms are not working, which is not true. Those who engage in such activities should face the law.”

New entrants

A section of the players in the aviation industry have pointed fingers at some of the new entrants in the field, whom they claim had resorted to tainting the credibility of others to gain business advantage.

Some charter airlines, it’s believed, were also making scheduled flights, heavily affecting financially those licensed scheduled airlines. “There is no established civil aviation machinery in Somalia to stop charter companies operating scheduled flights illegally. This leaves airlines licensed to operate scheduled flights at a financial loss due to unfair competition,” complained an airline official.

But despite the under-cutting and dirty tricks being employed in the cut-throat competition for business, it Mogadishu route has slowly become less lucrative due to the ongoing security operation in Kenya.

President Uhuru Kenyatta said the operation, which has seen some illegal Somali aliens flown back to Mogadishu will continue. Some airlines such as African Express Airways however, use only the Mogadishu route for positioning of its flights to other international destinations. African Express Airways currently operates on 13 destinations across seven countries.

Jubba Airlines do not also entirely depend on the Mogadishu route. Kenyan airlines also face competition from Ugandan airlines, which have now taken over Ugandan traders who until last year, used to trade with Somalia via Nairobi.

Offering service three times a week between Entebbe International Airport and Mogadishu’s Aden Adde International Airport, Air Uganda became the second international carrier after Turkish Airlines to venture onto  Somalia route. The service to Mogadishu targets the growing number of Ugandan traders exporting foodstuffs to Somalia via Nairobi. Kenya businessmen argue while some other countries issue visas to Somalis holding Somali passports, Kenya does not, and throwing away business.

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