Why more Kenyans are giving it a whirl…
East Africa presents clear opportunities for growing helicopter demand due to its vast remote areas with few airstrips. Githae Mwaniki has been looking at the rotary-wing industry in Kenya.
The Kenyan helicopter sector has been growing relatively quickly when compared to other countries in the region.
With more than a dozen certified commercial operators and over 75 helicopters on the Kenyan civil aircraft registry at the end of 2015, the country’s rotary-wing sector is second only to South Africa in the continent and comparable to both Nigeria and Egypt.
The sector includes established operators like Everett Aviation, Lady Lori, Heliservices, Phoenix Aviation, Sicham Aviation, Penial Air, Aberdair Aviation, Airkenya Aviation, Muhwai, Helicopter Charter of East Africa, Youth Aviation and Tropic Air, plus newer entrants Kwae Island Development and Northwood Aviation.
The growth is largely driven by the successes of the on-going oil and gas exploration in northern Kenya and VIP transport, predominated by politician travel.
Non-commercial helicopter operations include the aerial conservation work undertaken by the Kenya Wildlife Services Air Wing, aerial patrol by Kenya Pipeline, cargo hook overline support by Kenya Power, and policing support by the Kenya Police Air Wing.
The Eurocopter (now Airbus Helicopter) models are still the leading make in the area, largely due to their availability in the used market, which has proved to be popular with upcoming operators.
The French Airbus AS350B2 is the most popular model; with the American Bell 206/407 leading in aerial works such as wildlife conservation and cargo hook services. The Robinson and Enstom makes have the lowest numbers.
The larger range of helicopters, like the Russian Mikhail Leontyevich Mil 17, are not available to the commercial market as they do not meet the Kenyan civil aviation airworthiness code requirements, thus leaving the aircraft for use only in the military and policing operations, which are exempted from the regulations.
The Kenya Police Air Wing, a recent beneficiary of increased investment from the state, has received an Italian AgustaWestland helicopter. The AW139 was the first of the make on the Kenyan registry. Preliminary assessment of its operations have been satisfactory.
A second Agusta Westland AW109 has been purchased by the Kenya Electricity Transmission Company to use in aerial patrol and power overline support. The Kenya Air Force has also made an order for three AW139s to be used for transport, with one to be designated as a presidential helicopter.
The Airbus AS350B2 has proven to be reliable and powerful enough to handle demanding loads. It is relatively easy to acquire due to its wide availability in the used market.
The Bell 206 jet ranger and newer Bell 407 have increased in numbers despite lower availability in the used market. There is strong manufacturer support with numerous approved maintenance centres, low operating costs and high operating loads, making most operators stick to the models for all their usable life.
Newer operators have widened the depth of the market by targeting a specific clientele.
For example, Helicopter Charters of East Africa is operating a Robinson R44, focusing on scenic tourist charters and filming operations. It charges a rate of just $800 per hour.
The operator is aiming to grow this market segment with its piston-driven aircraft targeting clientele who previously could not afford to utilise rotary-wing services due to relatively high rates averaging around $1,800 per hour.
Aberdair Aviation has been focusing on the oil and gas sector with its Bell 407 helicopter. Meanwhile, Muhwai and Penial Air operate the type targeting executive transport.
Youth Aviation, with its three Airbus AS350B2s, has targeted safari charters, executive transport and filming. It recently launched a new flight marketing technique by introducing the flight share option, where it sells individual seats on flights to a predetermined location, as opposed to a full aircraft charter.
Sicham Aviation offers charters as well as being the only certified training organisation offering helicopter pilot training.