Sub-Saharan African airlines, with the exception of South African Airways, Ethiopian Airline and Kenya Airways, have been described asÂ coffins in the sky. Now, OGOVA ONDEGO writes, the media are questioning the safety record of Kenya Airways over the first quarter of 2008.
When the string of awards “African Airline of the Year, Regional Airline of the Year, Best Inflight Magazine”that Kenya Airways had received in the late 1990s stopped coming, the managers of the airline that describes itself as “The Pride of Africa” ought to have evaluated the airline’s performance before it was edged out as East Africa’s Most Respected Company Now one reads only disturbing news about KQ: Fears over KQ’s
Safety Records, KQ Plane Engine Fails, IATA Takes Up KQ Safety Fears, KQ Lays Off Workers. And as if this were not bad enough, the airline management remains tight-lipped as if it does not believe in the adage that silence may be synonymous with acquiescence.
However the KQ Chief Executive Officer, Titus Naikuni, irked by media reports questioning the safety records of his employer’s planes, responded in a paid-for advert on May 4, 2008. But rather than tackle the problem head on, the national carrier of Kenya appears to be playing politics, blaming The Standard newspaper of distorting its ‘internal safety report to create panic and fear amongst our over 3 million annual passengers who fly across our network.”
In the May 4, 2008 paid-for press statement referred to, KQ describes The Standard reports as ‘malicious and unfounded’, ‘an attack on Kenya Airways’ and ‘an attack on the integrity of the over 4200 KQ employees who work tirelessly to maintain the highest safety standard every day’.
Instead of addressing the safety concerns, KQ says it was “the first airline in sub-Saharan Africa to attain the IATA [International Air Transport Association] Operational Safety Audit in October 2005 which was recently renewed in October 2007…we pursue an aggressive safety reporting culture.”
But did KQ’s newly acquired Embraer ERJ-170-100 LR plane fail to take off for Nairobi from Kisumu due to engine failure on May 1, 2008? KQ does not say anything about this just as it does not comment on the accident another aircraft had in Entebbe, Uganda.
It is barely a year after a KQ plane (a Boeing 737-800 that had been in its possession for barely six months) crashed in Cameroon on May 4, 2007, killing 114 passengers.
Something else that a traveller does not care about but which KQ goes into in detail is whether it is the International Air Travel Association (IATA) or the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) that is concerned with the issue of safety standards. All a traveler requires is the assurance that the aircraft will take them to their destination comfortably and safely.
KQ dismisses the reported concerns of a Nairobi aviation lawyer, Peter Simani, who Standard says is has given notice to KCAA of his intention to raise the matter of the “safety and maintenance profile of Kenya Airways” at the May 12, 2008 meeting as ‘an advocate representing the interests of a competitor airline’.
So, just what is wrong with Kenya Airways? Besides the safety fears, KQ aircraft are said not to be receiving adequate maintenance, hardly ever run on schedule, and lack the courtesy and friendliness that are the hallmark of good air service. Perhaps these are some of the issues CEO Naikuni should concentrate on if KQ is to reclaim its former glory as East Africa’s Most Respected Company of the Year.
Travellers, and indeed all humanity, have a right to be concerned about the safety record of the airline they use in today’s highly mobile world. As such, KQ has no justification to say that so-and-so represents a rival company and therefore cannot question its safety record.
Though Computer Assisted Passenger Screening and strict security checks at airports are important, they cannot replace rigorous and painstaking aircraft maintenance.
According to Awake! magazine, aircraft “repair needs are anticipated through careful monitoring of the plane’s mechanical log book…airplanes and their engines undergo strictly scheduled maintenance overhauls “far more frequently than the average automobile” even if the aircraft has an absolutely trouble-free record.”
Poor maintenance can, and does, lead to big problems, including but not limited to fatal accidents in which hundreds of people lose their lives.
Though the US National Safety Council figures indicate that air travel is safer than traveling by road, averages are just that: indications. And they only apply where strict safety conditions are adhered to. The chances in a
lifetime of one experiencing a fatal accident in a plane, NSC says, is one in 5100 compared to one in 81 by motor vehicle. Whereas the chance of a traveller experiencing a fatal accident in a year by a motor vehicle is one in 6212, it is further reduced to one in 390000 by plane. But statistics are abstract estimates that could be quite misleading. Remember the description of African, not US, planes as “fling coffins”?
It is reassuring to hear that KQ has hired 11 engineers from France to maintain its 23 aircraft. But one wonders where the engineers KQ had and who made it to be recognized as one of the safer airlines in the African sky go?
Lest I, like the Nairobi lawyer, be dismissed as lacking in credibility to comment on this issue, I hasten to say that I am one of those highly patriotic people who are proud to travel by Kenya Airways, an airline of international repute owned by Kenyans. I do not choose any other airline unless KQ does not operate on my route. By the fact that I am Kenyan, I feel proud to see the Kenyan flag bearer on the runway abroad. A journalist and cultural operator to whom flying is a routine necessity, I am a frequent flier on the KQ’s Flying Blue programme. So, do I qualify to write about airline safety? Perhaps.
Kenya Airways CEO, Titus Naikuni. A pacmin.com picture. You are at the Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates waiting for a KQ flight to Nairobi.
Instead of the plane leaving at 00.50 AM as scheduled, the passengers board 60 minutes later. As they board the plane, Eric Wainaina’s Twende Twende music album is playing repeatedly from the plane’s speakers in a manner that would put to shame the crew of an Eldoret Express bus to western Kenya. In fact, it appears it is the only music available as it will play over the 30 minutes it takes for the plane to leave. There is no in-flight magazine on board. The cabin attendants do not serve you any refreshment and they ignore you when you ask them to bring you something. However, it is only when you say that you will make a formal complaint in Nairobi that one young man comes, apologises for not attending to you promptly, and says that he was working on a blocked toilet.
When you ask for a glass of juice and some nuts, he brings you a tray-full of them as if to both embarrass you and protest your having to bother him in the middle of the night! Is CEO Naikuni aware of this behaviour among his ‘over 4200 KQ employees who work tirelessly to maintain the highest safety standard every day’?
Kenya Airways ought to look at the raised safety fears, even if it wishes to dismiss them as just rumours, to ensure that KQ is not included on the list of airlines blacklisted and banned from entering the airspace of industrialized nations.
By the way, why is KQ laying off staff and considering raising fares citing increased operational costs occasioned by the rising fuel prices while Malaysian airlines are offering ‘free flights’ for domestic and ‘free seats’ to international destinations, respectively?
“Despite rising fuel costs,” Yusof Sulaiman rites in eTN online publication, “Malaysian airfares are the lowest in the [ASEAN] region.”
Through their ‘Zero Fares’ campaign, Sulaiman writes from Kuala Lumpur, two Malaysian carriers “FireFly”, asubsidiary of Malaysian Airlines and AirAsia, only require passengers to pay airport tax, fuel surcharge andadministration fees and transact only online.