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Let no one encroach on land around airports

By - | June 7th 2012

African countries are not known for their exemplary air safety record. And this is no idle chatter as three days ago, a cargo plane came down heavily in Ghana.

Then two days ago a Dana Air plane ploughed into a built-up Lagos neighbourhood, claiming the lives of more than 200 souls.

On Wednesday, Egypt Air Flight 849 carrying 123 passengers skidded and veered off the runway at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) and got stuck in mud. Luckily, no one was injured.

While it is prestigious to have a national air carrier and that it is a feature of modern-day travel, it is nonetheless an expensive undertaking and fraught with risk.

However, it is not something any modern country can do without as it remains the fastest form of transportation on the planet.

extenuating factors

No African nation is a manufacturer or assembler of aircraft parts or fuselages. All countries buy or lease aircraft from American, European, Russian, South American, or other Asian countries.

They only need to keep the aircraft serviced when due and ensure there is a pool of manpower to navigate the skies. And Kenya has been a keen player in the air travel market through its flagship Kenya Airways.

Granted that a lot of money, time, brains and passion have gone into Research and Development to keep those metal behemoths hurtling through our skies, the crucial consideration is to reassure users of the safety of air travel.

Consequently, a lot of planning and approvals go into planning projects such as the building of airports and airstrips.

Ancillary developments and extenuating factors that could come into play dozens of years down the line are factored into the quest for new airports. Air corridors and airlines must be secured and human settlements pre-determined so that neither one gets in the way of the other.

Hard questions are going to be asked about the state of the Dana aircraft, but also, a lot more will be about the proximity of the housing estate the plane came down in.

It is not lost on Kenyans that since the Kenya Air force aeroplane came calling into Nairobi’s Kaloleni, it was a miracle hundreds or even thousands would not have lost their lives.

Kenya Airports Authority has, to their credit, issued notices to those encroaching on airfield land to vacate the same for their safety. That is why even the American Embassy in Nairobi relocated from the landing approach of JKIA.

Sadly, however, property developers have erected storeyed buildings right at the takeoff point of the Wilson Airport runway. Similarly a fast-growing slum population appears determined to make the premise a permanent residential area regardless of the danger they are exposing themselves to.

It is doubly grievous as there is a very popular restaurant in the vicinity of Wilson, several schools and an upcoming storied hotel.

Are these people unaware of the risk to life and limb or is it plain impunity? Remember the Busia Airstrip crash that occurred because herdsmen shared vital space with licensed aircraft?

There was talk of moving Wilson Airport from the vicinity of its heavily built-up locale to the expansive Ruai or Kajiado. Great plan or was it mere rumours perpetrated by property speculators?


What became of the much-hyped plan to expand JKIA? That a mishap involving a single aircraft can cause such massive losses in terms of transiting fees, passenger care, destruction of perishables meant for export and just the general disruption of schedules and other travel plans needs to be addressed.

Finally, the threat of terrorism is the excuse that finally got the structures hemming in Moi Airbase Eastleigh to be pulverised. Is that, perhaps, the high-handedness that should be employed to discourage settlers in and around airport-designated land?

It sure is an entertaining prospect if the death and destruction in evidence in aircraft-related accidents are anything to go by


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