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Queries Over Stalled Probe Into The Compromised Safety Standards Of Skyward Express Airline

Queries have been raised over the delayed opening of an inquiry into the operations of Skyward Express Airline following a petition by an MP over the safety of its flights.

Months have passed since the petition was filed in parliament prompting questions about the delay. We learn that the Public Petitions Committee chaired by Kitui East Nimrod Mbai is yet to initiate the inquiry as directed by the Speaker.

Hon. Protus Akujah (Loima MP) on 18th October, 2023, presented a petition on the Floor of the House regarding compromised safety standards of planes operated by Skyward express PLC.

Presenting the petition, Hon. Akujah said he had received concerns from citizens regarding the safety standards of the planes as they have experienced incidents such as mishaps in landing gear, uneasy sounds from the engines and parts of planes during mid-flight and smoke emanating from the wings.

“I, the undersigned on behalf of concerned citizens in the Republic of Kenya draw the attention of the House that in the recent past, the airline has experienced incidents that have made the commitment of the airline to the maintenance of minimum flight safety standards questionable,” Mr Akuja said in a petition.

“Such mishaps include tires refusing to open when some Skyward Express airplanes are almost landing, unknown sounds from the planes while mid-flight, and smoke emanating from the wings.”

The petitioners  further said that there is a concern that the Skyward Express PLC charges exorbitant ticket prices that are higher than any other airline flying similar routes in the country.

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Hon. Akujah added that efforts to have the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) address the matter have not been fruitful. He said the petitioners pleaded that the National Assembly make an inquiry into all matters raised in the petition to ensure KCAA undertakes an urgent safety inspection on all aircrafts operating under the Skyward Express Airline PLC and mandatory and regular maintenance of aircrafts is certified by the Authority.

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Contributing to the petition, Hon. (Dr.) Robert Pukose (Endebess) said the matter at hand was weighty and needed to be addressed immediately.

“It is scary to see a plane emit smoke on its wings. Safety measures should be put in place immediately and inspections should be done to all the aircrafts. The earlier this matter is acted upon the better,” said Hon. (Dr.) Pukose.

KCAA Concerns

Even before the petition, the airline was facing investigations by the aviation authority this was after a flight operated by Skyward was forced to make an emergency landing at Moi Airport in Eldoret.

The plane tail number 5Y SMK flying from Lodwar in Turkana was forced to make an emergency landing in Eldoret on October 15. The mishap is what caused Loima MP Protus Akuja who comes from Turkana to petition parliament for a thorough investigati0n into Skyward’s operations.

In a separate incident, one of its planes was forced to crash land at Burahache Military camp in Somalia after developing mechanical issues July 2021.

The previous year, a Skywards Express plane with 50 passengers was forced to make an emergency landing shortly after taking off from Lamu’s Manda airport.

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The plane had left Wilson Airport on Wednesday morning but suffered a mechanical problem, forcing the pilot to land.

Mr. Akuja now says that having the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority address the matter has not been fruitful. He wants the committee to ensure that mandatory and regular maintenance of aircraft is certified by the KCAA.

Last year, there was a leaked email from the company which showed that the investigation by KCAA mainly bordered around safety.

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Leaked internal email.

Worryingly, it appeared that Skyward was from the email allowing non authorised personnel to its airside. The airside is a part of the airport used by aircraft for loading, unloading, take offs and landings. The area is beyond security checks, passport and customs control. Only people with special passes are allowed on the airside.

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“Kindly note that KCAA will be visiting our office for security inspection and follow up on the last audit findings,” said the email from Augustus Mogoi, the head of Safety and Security to his team that was sent on October 24.

“Kindly ensure that all interns and casuals without airside passes are not on duty during this period as the auditors will access and sample our level of compliance on access control,” he said.

For safety reasons, access to airside areas is restricted to authorised personnel only.

“Access shall be granted only to those with an operational need or other legitimate reason to be there. Identity and authorization shall be verified at designated checkpoints before access is allowed to airside areas and security restricted areas,” says the Civil Aviation Act.

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Skyward Express was founded in 2013 from the ashes of Skyward International Aviation. Based out of Nairobi Wilson Airport, it operates on domestic routes with an in-house fleet of two Fokker 50s, one Fokker 100 chartered to its virtual subsidiary Premier Airlines, one Dash 8-100, and one Dash 8-300. It recently took delivery of its first Fokker 70.

Although the company claims to be separate from Skyward International, the transfer of name was nothing more than a rebranding. Skyward International suffered a loss of reputation following several air accidents, with four of its Fokker 50s destroyed, according to ATDB.aero.

Data from ATDB shows that one F50 was crashed in Nairobi when the landing gear would not lower, causing it to make a belly landing. Another crashed near Utawala after crew ignored multiple alarms during the takeoff roll, killing all four onboard.

A third crashed during a forced landing at Aweil-Uwayl, where one of its wings was sheared off, while the fourth veered off the runway at Mogadishu after the landing gear collapsed on landing.

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