Last month, a Kenya Air Force transport aircraft crash landed in El~Wak, Mandera County killing the soldier pilot instantly and leaving 11 other military officers with serious injuries. The aircraft was a Harbin Yunshuji Y-12-II transport plane owned by the Kenyan Air Force, operated a flight from Mandera to Nairobi with stops at El~Wak and Garissa. According to sources, this crash was caused by in-flight engine failure which led to the air force immediately ground all its Harbin Y-12 aircraft for inspection.
Harbin Y-12 or Yunshuji-12 is a twin engine light multi role aircraft designed and developed by Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation (HAMC) of China. This particular model of aircraft has recorded numerous fatal accidents around the world and there are quiet calls from within the Kenyan military to decommission the fleet altogether, and have it replaced with a safer and more robust fleet.
In 2006, another Harbin Y12 Chinese aircraft crashed in Marsabit, killing a total of fourteen people including two serving assistant ministers Hon Mirugi Kariuki and Hon Titus Ngoyoni as well the former foreign affairs minister Hon. Bonaya Godana, and two other members of parliament who also died; all of whom were burnt beyond recognition. As with the El-Wak crash, this accident was on a flight operated by Kenya Air Force which owned and maintained the aircraft. Incidentally, the air force which was founded on June 1, 1964, the Air Force marks its 50th anniversary today.
Unclassified wikileaks cables revealed that, although Kenya Ministry of State for Defence had procured six of these aircraft in 1997 and another six in 2000, only seven were operable at the time of the Marsabit crash; a result of insufficient upkeep. A United States Embassy official in Nairobi who had traveled on one of the Y-12s in early April 2006 reported that the aircraft lost a part in-flight, but continued the journey safely. Such is the frightening experiences Kenya military officers have to undergo in daily routine when they are flown on Harbin Y-12 aircraft.
The Harbin Y-12, is 17-seater tactical transport aircraft supplied to the Kenya Air Force by the Chinese in a single-sourced deal shrouded in mystery. The Harbin Y-12 utility plane was supplied to be used as a utility aircraft used by the Kenya Defense Forces for deployment of troops during the tenure of General Daudi Tonje who retired before they were delivered.
According the private, independently run and authoritative Aviation Safety Network which covers global accidents and safety issues with regards to airliners, military transport planes and corporate jets, with over 10,700 incidents in its database, the Harbin Y-12 has reported at least 23 aviation accidents in the last 20 years, and in the process killed more than one hundred people around the world. This tragic statistics constitutes 15% of those fatalities occurring in Kenya whereby the accidents involve Chinese manufactured Harbin Y-12 aircraft.
Sources further reveal that the Chinese have one of the most unreliable spare part supply support programs ever encountered by Kenya Air Force, which has had to endure erratic relations with China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation (Abbreviate: CATIC) which was awarded the exclusive spare part supply contract. CATIC is a large scale state-owned conglomerate with aviation products and technology import and export as its core business.
At the time of delivery of the aircraft CATIC claims to have exported 114 such aircraft to more than 20 countries in the world and pledged to provide better after-sale support to the customers, and talked of having set up overseas bonded warehouses in Pakistan, Fiji, Peru, Singapore and Kenya. No one knows where the bonded warehouses that stock spares for Kenya Air Force is situated.
Not only are CATIC supplying incorrect and technically inferior parts, they are notorious for delayed supplies especially for AOG (Aircraft On Ground) and IOR (immediate operational requirements) component supplies which in aviation industry say ranges from a delivery of between 24 hours to one week. CATIC take up to one year to fulfill spare part supplies, thereby interrupting scheduled maintenance and directly compromising aviation safety for the air force whose limited fleet and the on-going war in Somalia cannot allow for prolonged grounding of aircraft. Sources revealed the air force has severally written to CATIC to complain about parts that fail physical tests upon delivery but these complaints have not been treated seriously.
Kenya has upgraded its military hardware significantly in the last two decades, with high-level purchases from Chinese state owned arms exporters. Between 2007 and 2011, according to SIPRI, Kenya imported 32 WZ 551 armoured personnel carriers and four Z-9WA helicopters from China.