The KWS Airwing, based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, is capable of providing an extremely diverse range of services in support of KWS’s wildlife management and protection activities with its fleet of 12 light aircraft and 3 larger aircraft, including a Bell 20614 helicopter. Among the specialized skills that have been carefully nurtured in its seven pilots are security and patrol flights, veterinary support services for research and translocation purposes, animal tracking game census, fire fighting, rescue (including mountain rescue) work, and transport of rations and supplies (including ammunition).
The year past was a quiet one in terms of security and rescue operations. The Airwing tested its skills at the end of 1995, when it was called upon to evacuate a group of British soldiers in training who lost their way while ascending Mount Kenya. A less dramatic rescue took place in the Maasai Mara two months later, when a balloon inadvertently landed between three flooded rivers near Siana Springs and the group of nine American tourists it was carrying found themselves cut off from support vehicles.
In February, the Airwing’s helicopter and another owned by the Eden Wildlife Trust played a leading role in an aerial survey of dugong as a follow-up to the comprehensive marine survey of 1994. As reports of dugong deaths had suggested, the tiny Kenyan population of this highly endangered marine mammal has declined further and requires urgent conservation attention.
The Airwing assisted Veterinary Services throughout the year with epidemiological surveys and sampling for rinderpest in Samburu, Mathews Range, Marsabit, Moyale, Wajir, Mandera, Baomo, Meru and Nairobi. It was also called upon to support numerous translocation operations involving hirola, rhino, elephant, buffalo and smaller game animals.
A three-week total game count conducted in the vicinity of Nairobi, Namanga, Amboseli and Machakos using GIS computer equipment provided data needed to develop quotas for game ranches in these areas.
With the hiring of a chief engineer, the process of bringing engineering services in house, begun in 1993, is almost complete. In March the Airwing received dispensation from the Civil Aviation Authority to perform its own checks I, II and III, resulting in considerable cost savings and improving efficiency by decreasing the down time for aircraft due to service requirements.
As essential as the Airwing is to KWS operations, it generates virtually no income for the organization as it is currently constituted, and costs have risen sharply in the last few years. A consultant commissioned to study the Airwing’s activities and assets with a view to reducing operating costs recommended, among other solutions, partial commercialization of the Airwing.
The Airwing has applied to the Civil Aviation Board for a Commercial Air Operator’s Certificate. If granted, the Airwing will be in a position to sell its specialized services to neighboring countries and conservation NGOs and perhaps conduct VIP tours on a limited scale on occasions when the larger aircraft are not in use by KWS.