Spectacular air show as Kenya marks 100 years of aviation

Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu and Transport and Infrastructure Principal Secretary John Musonik joined hundreds of aviation enthusiasts and locals to celebrate 100 years since the first flight in East Africa took off at Maktau in Taita Taveta County on October 4, 1915.

Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu (left) joins Rose Plastic as they dance to the tune of a Taita song during celebrations to mark the first flight in East Africa in Maktau. On the right is British High Commission Warrant Officer One Justin Hollands.(PHOTO: GIDEON MAUNDU/STANDARD)

Locals were treated to a rare display of air shows by both fixed wing planes and gyrocopter planes during the Saturday celebrations. The planes took off from the Sarova Taita Hills Lodge airstrip, located about 7km from Maktau and made air manoeuvres as they flew over the Old Maktau Railway Station grounds.

‘’We are gathered here today to commemorate what is billed as a very important day in the history of aviation, not only in Kenya but the whole of the East African region,” Mr Mruttu, who was flanked by Deputy Governor Mary Ndigha Kibuka, said.

Veteran of the skies

The Governor said his government is ready to work with the local community in Maktau to ensure that it drives a development agenda.

‘’Although the event, we are observing what happened during war time, we are gathered here today to cherish its rich history and significance to development of aviation in this part of the globe,’’ Mruttu said.

The first air display was made by a light aircraft flown by Luca Belpietro of Campi ya Kanzi, a veteran of the skies. It was followed minutes later by Rob Dobson in a two-seater gyrocopter.

Earlier on, an EC 130 Euro Copter, which carried Dr Musonik and his entourage, piloted by Captain Sigilai Evans, touched down at the venue, adding to the day’s skillful display.

Musonik lauded the Taita Taveta County Government for choosing to celebrate the important aspect of the region’s aviation history.

He announced that while the Jubilee government is keen to improve the general infrastructure to make Jomo Kenyatta International Airport a hub for aviation in the region, much is also going on to improve airstrips and airfields across the country.

“We have budgeted Sh100 million towards the general improvement of the airstrips and airfields as we seek to ensure air connectivity,” Musonik said.

He said among airfields that will be upgraded is the one at Ikanga in Voi sub-county.

Last week, Fly County, operating out of Wilson Airport, inaugurated its first weekly flight to Voi.

Taita Taveta County Executive for Tourism and Environment Alexander Mwangeka, said commemorating the inaugural flight in Maktau has great historical significance.

He said Aero Club of East Africa has agreed to partner with the county and private stakeholders in the tourism industry, who were at the forefront in organising the commemorative event, to celebrate the event annually.

Tourism attractions

The first aircraft at Maktau, according to hotelier-cum historian James Willson, were Caudron Gills, BE2Cs and Henry Farmans. They were flown by both the Royal Navy Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps from South Africa.

Willie Mwadilo, chairman of the Kenya Association of Hotelkeepers and Caterers (Tsavo and Amboseli branches), and a member of the 100 Years of Flight commemorative celebrations, said they are banking on the event to publicise the various tourism attractions in the county such as battlefield tourism, home stays and cultural tourism.

Mwatate MP Andrew Mwadime and his Voi counterpart Jones Mlolwa were present.

Other dignitaries who attended the event included Major General (Rtd) Charles Mwanzia, board member Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA), Captain Joe Mutungu, director in charge of Safety and Regulations at KCAA, Moi International Airport Manager Jedidah Solitei and Fred Okeyo who represented KTB Managing director, Muriithi Ndegwa.