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Airports in Danger

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Airports in Danger

Link to this post 03 Mar 11

Though not wildlife related, for those of us who fly into or out of Kenyan airports this article below is just confirming what we already know.

Airports in danger

The Standard
By: Harold Ayodo

A drive around Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), Wilson Airport and Moi Airbase in Eastleigh depicts the construction boom in Nairobi. Residential and commercial buildings are fast encroaching into areas around airports even as authorities warn that majority are aviation hazards.

Players in real estate say scarcity of land and disregard for safety in Nairobi has forced investors to encroach and construct estates with impunity. According to City Council of Nairobi the illegal developments that include sky-crappers, car bazaars, residential estates and hotels sit on land reserve set aside for expansion of airport terminus.

Consequently, aviation experts concur that several buildings, mostly around Wilson Airport and Moi Airbase, gravely affect operations of flights. For instance, the airbase is sandwiched between highrise flats but we could not take pictures because it is legally gazetted as a Protected Area.

According to aviation experts, flight funnels must be visible to pilots for smooth take-off and landing, which is becoming a rare phenomenon in Nairobi. Last year, successive plane crushes at Wilson Airport generated debate in Parliament, with Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara attributing the accidents to multi-storied buildings around the facility.

However, the then Transport Assistant Minister Harun Mwau said the buildings were legal and had complied with the Building Code.

Compromised safety

Imanyara said that over 50 protest letters had been sent to the ministry seeking to have the constructions outlawed. But, the minister denied knowledge of this.

A bird\'s eye view of new developments around Wilson Airport.

Wajir East MP Abdirahman Hassan asked the Lands minister to revoke title deeds near airports and compensate the owners so as to enhance safety of airfields.

Recently, the Kenya Association of Air Operators (KAAO) warned that Wilson Airport no longer met safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

The KAAO believes that encroachment on land surrounding both JKIA and Wilson airports compromises the safety of the facilities. According to KAAO, aircrafts are forced to dive at sharp angles when approaching Wilson Airport in order to avoid hitting obstacles.

Illegal buildings

Furthermore, illegal construction of fences and houses also mean that access routes by emergency crews at JKIA are blocked and the consequences can be disastrous.

And the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) has raised concerns with the Government following hazards attributed to illegal constructions along flight paths.

However, authorities warn that not all residential estates and storied commercial buildings within the vicinity of the airports are illegal. Take the case of estates in South C such as Five Star, which are directly opposite the run-way at Wilson airport and aeroplanes fly over the houses several times a day.

Ironically, the City Council of Nairobi says majority of buildings within the vicinity of the three airports are illegal and have been issued with demolition notices.

Flight corridors

And private developers continue tripping over each other for construction space near the facilities with utter disregard to aviation and planning laws.

Home and Away set off to seek answers from concerned authorities over the constructions KCAA say are aviation hazards. We started off at City Hall as the Physical Planning Act mandates local authorities to vet and okay constructions within their jurisdictions.

City Council of Nairobi Assistant Director of Development Control David Gatimu says that flight corridors must be kept clear of developments. Legally, the Physical Planning Act and the Civil Aviation Act control developments that may be aviation hazards.

\"We collaborate with KCAA to ensure that plans for buildings near airports do not interfere with flight corridors,\" Gatimu says adding that the planning department at City Hall forwards the development plans to KCAA for vetting, arguing flight paths are well defined.

\"We only okay the buildings after KCAA has given a green light that they will not affect the flight paths negatively,\" Gatimu says.

However, some developers move on site with impunity even after the local authority has rejected their multi-million shilling construction plans. City Council of Nairobi Monitoring and Evaluation Assistant Director Justus Kathenge says they have issued several notices to owners of the illegal developments over the past six years.

\"We started issuing notices to the investors in 2005… our efforts landed on deaf ears as more developers move to site,\" Kathenge says.


He warns the local authority would move in any time to flatten the structures arguing their legal period to offer notices has expired.

\"They are a combination of formal and informal developments… sprawling slums have come up on airport land,\" Kathenge says.

KCAA Corporate Communications Manager Mutia Mwandikwa says private developers recently embarked on constructions along the flight approach funnel at the JKIA.

\"We (KCAA) moved to site and stopped the developers as required by law… they never followed legal procedures before moving to site,\" Mwandikwa says.

Blinding smoke

He says City Hall must consult KCAA when developers express interest to erect structures on flight corridors.

A light aircraft that crashed into a house near Wilson Airport.

\"We even have reservations with the relocation of the Dandora dumpsite to Ruai as birds will be flying over JKIA to Ruai,\" Mwandikwa says.

He says some factories constructed on flight corridors emit chunks of smoke that are dangerous to aviation safety and security.

\"We (KCAA) have an aviation safety and security division, which checks developments that obstruct flights landing and taking off,\" says Mwandikwa.

He notes the Authority is working with the Ministry of Lands, City Hall and the Kenya Airports Authority (KAA) towards clearing the flight corridors.

\"After our regular surveys some buildings need to be demolished while others should be reduced in height in line with international practices in aviation,\" Mwandikwa says.

According to Architectural Association of Kenya (AAK) Chairman Steven Oundo, research and surveys conducted by the association concur with the KCAA. AAK says the construction industry is yet to awake from the dark ages of the past regime when corruption was rampant leading to impunity in the industry.

\"Most buildings around airports countrywide are not approved… they ought to be demolished but most are protected by political godfathers,\" Oundo says.

Grey areas

Oundo says the permissible distance between buildings and flight corridors is a grey area as it is mainly determined by security issues and environment matters.

However, the challenge with determination of security is that there are no specific guides on the distance buildings should leave; therefore, each building approval is on a plan-by-plan basis.

\"It makes it difficult to clearly pick out which building has infringed on an airport’s flight corridor,\" Oundo says.

Experts concur that environmental issues are easier to address and they can be mitigated compared to the issue of private developers.

\"The mitigation factor would be that the architect would provide a waste management system to prevent flying birds from causing an aviation menace,\" Oundo says.

According to the AAK, heights of buildings around airports is controlled by international standards and guided by the vision of flight path. Further, the heights of developments around airports should depend on the type of airport, volume of air traffic, type of aircrafts and airport land use.

\"As registered professionals, we are aware of the risks of flouting construction rules and regulations by erecting illegal buildings near airports,\" Oundo says.

For instance, disasters ranging from inaccessibility by fire engines and ambulances to rescue passengers and cargo in the event of a plane crash.

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