The aviation regulator has warned helicopter operators that they risk losing their licences or a fine of up to Sh1 million for safety breaches, including fitting planes with modified colours and banners — a move that is set to hit politicians hard.
The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) says night operations without Instrument Fly Rule (IFR) authorisations for both pilot and helicopter operator as well as hoisting of banners on aircraft without permission from the agency is against Kenya’s aviation regulations.
Kenya is increasingly seeing helicopters branded in political party colours and pictures of aspirants ahead of the August 4 general election as choppers become one way of demonstrating the might of candidates.
Their convenience in traversing the country has seen choppers emerge as essential campaign tools, with KCAA reporting increased registration of new aircraft either owned by politicians or leasing firms.
The authority notes that up to 90 per cent of helicopters in Kenya do not have the provision to fly at night but pilots have been flouting this regulation by flying late from political rallies, while the deadline to fly is 6pm.
KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe says helicopter operators will pay up to Sh1 million for failing to adhere to safety standards thereby endangering the lives of citizens and passengers.
“Operators are flouting the standard operating procedures (SOPs) and regulations relating to airmanship. From today, the authority is putting them on notice. Violators risk hefty fines and losing their licences under the Civil Aviation Act,” said Mr Kibe.
“KCAA wishes to remind helicopter pilots to ensure that they comply with Rules of the Air requirements,” he added.
He said it was now mandatory for helicopter operators to ensure the aircraft are cordoned off 30 metres from members of the public to avoid recent incidence where people have dangerously hang on to helicopters as they took off.
Kenya has a total of 86 registered helicopters and more than 100 trained pilots, according to the regulator.
KCAA chairman Samuel Poghisio says the authority is mandated through oversight requirements to protect the safety and security of the flying public and property in the air and on ground.
“We have to also warn the public that there is no heroism in jumping onto or hanging onto an airborne helicopter,” said Mr Poghisio.
In the recent past there have been three cases of Kenyans hanging on helicopters that have taken off, endangering their lives.
“In such situation, the pilot should use his intelligence and abort landing or taking off until when the safety conditions are restored,” Mr Kibe said.
Helicopter operators have also been warned not fly aircraft with modified/concealed or contrasting nationality marks.
“Unless otherwise authorised by the authority a person shall not place on any aircraft a design, mark or symbol that modifies or confuses the nationality and registration marks,” says KCAA.