Top executives of private air operator Fly540 have reportedly infiltrated the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) inspection licencing system to control entire directorates apparently with the consent of Director General.
This development has alarmed industry players who say the practice is negatively impacting their businesses and even worse compromising air safety over Kenyan skies.
Fly540 Aviation and FlySax are both owned by Briton Don Smith, and are both reportedly receiving preferential treatment at KCAA ahead of other operators despite a worrying compliance record by Fly540 and FlySax which has led to increasing concerns on safety and reliability.
Recently it was reported how fifty passengers escaped death when a Fly540 aircraft wheel detached during bumpy touch down.
Nothing illustrates KCAA’s complacency and corruption like the recent near mid-air collision over Kenyan skies which raised global alarm and brought sharp focus on the activities at KCAA and it’s Director General Captain Gilbert Macharia Kibe.
KCAA was seemingly caught napping when an Ethiopian passenger jet and an Italian Neos SpA leisure plane only avoided mid-air collision after the Ethiopian Airlines pilot climbed 1000 feet to escape and avert what would have been a horrific collision between the two aircraft, all flying the same converging path.
Accidents and near misses aside, KCAA poor management is also costing Kenyan tax payers heavily.
Due to incompetence and corruption, the Supreme Court recently ruled that KCAA must pay a private airline Sh1.3 billion for irregularly suspending its licence, though misrepresentation and irregularities.
An undercover probe by this publication has uncovered how the unscrupulous Don Smith has pocketed top KCAA executives who bend backwards to ensure applications submitted by Fly540 and FlySax are processed expeditiously and without following due process.
The investigation also uncovered severe cases of non-compliance that pose serious air safety risks. It is not uncommon to observe apprehensive passengers praying while on board Fly540 aircraft.
Equally confounding is the slow pace of investigation into accidents involving Fly540 and it’s subsidiaries.
When he appeared before the National Assembly Transport and Public Works Committee, KCAA CEO Capt Kibe had promised to produce accident report of the investigation into the FlySax accident that killed 10 persons last year, but to date no report has been forthcoming.
The Fly540 CEO whose citizenship in Kenya is questionable, has total control over the Office of the Director General and counts Captain Gilbert Macharia Kibe who also acts as the CEO of KCAA as one of his closest friends.
Smith is also close to KCAA’s head of the Directorate of Aviation Safety Standards and Regulation (DASSR). This is the all important KCAA wing that ensures aviation safety, security oversight, and undertakes economic regulation of the industry.
This function is discharged through seven departments Flight Operations, Airworthiness, Personnel Licensing, Aviation Medicine, Aviation Security, Aerodrome, ANS and Meteorology, Air Transport, and Aviation Consumer Protection.
Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) are also governed by international conventions through agencies like the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA).
Due to relations between Don Smith and Capt Kibe, many of Fly540’s safety procedures are overlooked so as to give the airline undue advantage with faster turn around times but with great risks to safety.
One example that recently stood out was when Don Smith irregularly reconfigured a VIP aircraft into a passenger carrier and the KCAA issued promptly issued an airworthiness certificate without subjecting the plan to compliance tests.
To make it worse, Fly540’s poor safety record received global recognition when the carrier was ranked among the world’s most dangerous airlines by AirlinesRatings.com, the world’s only air safety and product rating website, which was launched in June 2013.
AirlinesRatings.com is a joint project between The West Australian and the Aerospace Technical Publications International whose rating system is based on audits from the industry’s governing bodies and governments, plus an airline’s fatality record.
So far, Fly540 is the only Kenyan airline on the list but Capt Kibe of KCAA continues to put passengers lives at great risk by refusing to order a comprehensive audit on the airline. No tourist or discerning will risk flying low cost locally for as long as Fly540 is given preferential treatment by KCAA.
Despite such glaring airworthiness discrepancies, Fly540 enjoys Capt Kibe’s patronage and are therefore facing relaxed standards in order to gain licences for its aircraft and pilots through a leniency of standards.
As CEO, who is in charge of the daily management and administrative duties at KCAA, Capt Line also serves as the Principal Advisor to the Cabinet Secretary responsible for Civil Aviation on matters affecting civil aviation development and practice.
However, many industry players view Kibe as a political appointee who is incompetent and unqualified to effectively manage KCAA.
Fly540 and its CEO Don Smith did not immediately respond to our enquiries regarding the concerns about its safety procedures.