So severe is the shortage that 34 operators on the waiting list since 2016 are yet to be certificated, according to Githae Mwaniki a senior consultant at the Aviation Information Consultants.
“Only two new operators, Ocean Airlines, that plans to fly to Somalia and other destinations in the Horn of Africa and RSA Air (new cargo operator) are currently undergoing the five phase Air Operator Certification process, while another 34 operators are on the waiting list,” said Githae.
Even more troubling is the fact that the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has only 18 flight operator inspectors, tasked with overseeing 66 Commercial Air Operators who include scheduled airlines and non-scheduled operators (charter).
Mwaniki reckons KCAA requires between 50 and 60 flight operations inspectors to optimally perform its oversight responsibilities. At least four to eight new operators should have been certified by the end of 2019, he adds.
The Kenyan government is responsible for the mess after freezing hiring of civil servants in the fiscal year 2018/19, something which affected recruitment of personnel at KCAA.
KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe says the authority requires at least 300 new staff to meet its oversight needs.
“KCAA has received approval from the Head of Public Service and the Treasury to recruit additional staff to enable to discharge its mandate,” Kibe said during a roundtable in December.
However despite the shortage, KCAA plans to soon hire just 15 inspectors among them 13 flights operation and two airworthiness inspectors, a far cry from what the industry requires.
“It takes 12 to 18 months to go through the government inspectors course, which is a requirement for a new inspector, after which they can be deployed to serve as a flight operations inspector/ certification project manager to oversee certification of a new air operator,” says Mwaniki.
Should the recruitment sails through, it will raise the flight operations inspectors from 18 to 31 in the country. Aviation stakeholders are pushing for between eight and 10 of the 13 new inspectors, be former inspectors so that they can be deployed immediately after orientation.
Aviation experts fear lack of certification for new operators is likely to affect relief missions launched from the country in response to humanitarian needs in the region, and also restrict uptake of air transport as an alternative mode of transport, the later which has been on the rise.