KENYAS AVIATION SECTOR IN A STATE OF FLUX
Nothing ever seems certain in the East African aviation industry, but the simple truth that what goes up eventually has to come down again. Key industry players, those in jet aviation like giant Kenya Airways, private carrier Jetlink owned by aviation veterans Capts. Aluvale and Patel, Fly 540 / East African Safari Air and ALS, a predominantly aircraft leasing company but with shares in SafariLink are the key stakeholders in a hardly fought over market for domination on the domestic routes. While for instance SafariLink flies predominantly on the safari routes across the country, there competing with such others as Air Kenya from Wilson Airport, Fly 540 operates both turboprops to the parks but also into secondary fields across Kenya, besides operating jets from Nairobis main international airport JKIA.
The announcement by Kenya Airways late last year, to form Jambo Jet, a supposedly new fully owned low cost carrier, to then unleash on the competition presently flying from Nairobi to Malindi, Mombasa and Kisumu, but probably also on regional routes, spurred some major activity amongst other players with notably Lonrho being rumoured that they had signed up with the founder of Easy Jet Stelios Ioannou. A report to that effect, published here a few weeks ago, at the time raised a number of questions as to its accuracy but it appears now that indeed that information was correct as Lonrho seems set to roll out an ambitious LCC strategy, first in East Africa and then in other destinations where Fly 540 has started to establish itself like Angola.
Speculation is now rife that a split of Fly 540 and the previously taken over East African Safari Air could be in the making, with the present management of Fly 540 moving on and out and doing their own bit while the jet operation has already seen new, Stelios approved management move in to turn ambition into reality. Losses incurred by Fly 540s management in Nairobi over the past years are said to be substantial and Lonrho got reportedly fed up over light red ink on the bottom line turning into dark red ink without remedy in sight by the current, or probably already former management. Ongoing legal cases, like the widely critizised and inexplicable departure of Uganda Country Manageress Jackie Arkle also left clouds hanging over the airline which now seems set to be bailed out by both funds and a competent at least 5 man strong team from the UK.
Regular sources at Fly 540 were reserved in commenting over the flurry of rumours presently flying around in Nairobi, in itself an indication that there could indeed be a major shift in the pipeline, but it is noteworthy that East African Safari Air has already filed an application with the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority to fly precisely those routes within Kenya which are presently operated by Fly 540s ATR fleet and other turboprop aircraft. It also appears from other sources that key staff may already have been shifted from Fly 540 to EASA, arguably in preparation for what the 540 top management must have seen coming with the writing on the wall to see for those with the eye.
Coincidence not in the opinion of this correspondent who has been monitoring aviation activities for years across the entire region and can smell a rat when the rodent may still be deep undercover. Watch this space as the battle for the East African skies is going into another phase, and by the look of it this will not be pretty at all as new constellations begin to emerge.