There are no plans to withdraw mandatory security checks on all aircrafts from Mogadishu to Nairobi, a top government official has said.
This is despite criticism from airline operators flying between the two cities, who termed the checks as unnecessary.
Currently, all flights leaving the Somalia capital for Kenya must stop at the Wajir Airport for security inspection. The airport is approximately 490km northeast of Nairobi.
While direct flights from the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) to Mogadishu take about one hour twenty minutes, the return leg takes nearly two and half hours, with the screening stretching it by an hour.
The security operation at Wajir, conducted by the Kenya Police and Kenya Air Force, involves unloading and scanning all luggage and frisking passengers and other rigorous immigration procedures.
Nairobi insists that the procedure – introduced in 2006 – is for the mutual benefit to the two neighbours who have in the past suffered several terror attacks due to the presence of Al Shabaab terrorist group in Somalia.
Kenya Civil Aviation Authority director-general, Gilbert Kibe, acknowledged concerns raised by the captains of the industry but insisted that it was a necessary evil.
“Wajir is a buffer zone used for vetting operators and passengers. This will continue until the government’s security high command states otherwise," he said.
Agreement on restrictions
Mogadishu claims that Kenya had agreed to allow direct flights between the two cities by December 13, 2016.
"Somalia and Kenya had an agreement to ease these restrictions because both airports in Nairobi and Mogadishu can handle security checks before anyone can board," an official told the Sunday Nation last month.
"We are in discussion with the Government of Kenya on this issue and very soon we will let the public know when the direct flights will start," Somali ambassador to Kenya, Gamal Hassan said.
Sanjeev Gadhia, CEO of Astral Aviation, a Kenyan-based logistics firm, says that the mandatory stop-overs at the Wajir Airport cause a lot of pain to passengers.
Besides the African Express and the Jubba Airways, the Wajir airport also receives dozens of light aircrafts used to transport relief aid food from the Middle East or aid workers to the Horn of Africa country.
US direct flights
Kenya, in an effort to have direct flights to the United States, has been implementing a raft of recommendations to enhance security. Having direct flights from Somalia’s capital would risk the country's security, and hence jeopardise Nairobi’s chances of connecting to the US directly.
But Mr Gadhia still argues that with better checks in Mogadishu, the Wajir operation would be unnecessary.
“There is need to liaise with security at Mogadishu to have passengers travel directly,” said Mr Gadhia.
Most airlines flying to Mogadishu target Somali travellers, government officials, military personnel and a growing number of investors from around the region seeking business opportunities in the Horn of Africa country.
Currently, the Aden Adde International Airport, Somalia's main hub in Mogadishu, offers nonstop flights to seven cities, among them Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish Airlines was the first international airline to start direct flights to Mogadishu.
Until mid-last year when it was grounded, Air Uganda also flew directly from Mogadishu to Entebbe making it a favourite for many Ugandan traders exporting foodstuffs.
Following stabilisation efforts in Somalia, the Horn of Africa nation has increasingly become attractive to businesspeople, hence pushing the growth of the aviation sector.
Operators like Fly 540, Jubba Airways and African Express started providing daily flights from Nairobi and the rest of the region.
Currently, there are 10 weekly flights between the JKIA and Aden Adde airport.