All six helicopters belonging to the Kenyan Police Air Wing have reportedly been grounded, with three having broken down over the past few years due to lack of spare parts while the last operational helicopter was written off in a crash last year.
The grounded air wing comprises four Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters and a Bell 407 and 206. The last operational aircraft of the police service was a Mi-17 which became unserviceable in October last year. Three of the Mi-17s are totally unserviceable. The Bell 206 is reportedly in a broken down but serviceable condition.
According to The Standard newspaper, the Ministry of Interior has started investigating top police administrative officials following revelations that a replacement rotor blade system which was acquired from the Ukraine to repair one of the grounded Mi-17s last year had only two flight-hours left of its lifetime and has since expired.
The Standard newspaper quoted Strategic Communications Director in the Ministry of Interior Mwenda Njoka saying the main investigation is aimed at establishing the circumstances around the crash of a police Bell 407 helicopter, registration number 5Y-RDU, last year.
He said a parallel investigation has been set up to probe police administration officials who were involved in the acquisition of expired rotor-blades for the police Mi-17 registration number 5Y-EDM.
Njoka said the expired rotor system comprised five blades for the Mi-17 and was acquired at a cost of 13 million shillings. He blamed the existence of ‘cartels’ at the national police administration and the interior ministry for the breakdown of the police air fleet and the failure to repair the assets so that they can be re-deployed to fight the heightened terror threat.
“There are so many issues at the (police) Air-Wing, including turf wars. The ministry is already investigating some of them and it is concerned about these turf wars which are negatively affecting operations.
“It is also a fact that the Air Wing is not managed well. This is compounded by the presence of other established networks and cartels at the police headquarters, the ministry and at the Air Wing,” Njoka said.
Among other problems, Air Wing command is being probe for allegedly abusing its power to order the training of civilian pilots, often family members of top government and police command officials, using police aircraft.
The Kenyan police air wing is presently stretched to the limit and has been unable to conduct key duties such as border patrol, anti-terror operations, emergency response, rapid deployment and provision of aerial support for ground operations.
Last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta said the government has plans to acquire new helicopters for the Kenyan Air Force (KAF) and the police Air Wing as the government tools up to confront terrorism after a series of bloody strikes by the Somali insurgent group Al Shabaab in the past two years.
In addition, he said the government will lease five helicopters for the police for a period of up to five years.