Politics is about posturing and image. Party leaders, governors, senators, MPs as well as aspiring politicians are acquired some of the latest models of helicopters.
In an assault on all fronts to win seats in 2017, Kenyan politicians left nothing to chance and took to the skies in style.
It was not only a status symbol, but a bold statement about their financial muscle directed at their opponents.
Those close to the country’s elite reveal that the aspirants’ preferred models choppers were Eurocopter and Bell.
In the last two years, President Kenyatta, his deputy William Ruto, CORD co-principals Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi and Peter Kenneth have all loosened their purse strings to acquire the beasts of the air.
Others who are listed by regulatory bodies as owners of choppers are Kanu chairman Gideon Moi, former President Kibaki, Embu Senator Lenny Kivuti as well as former Cabinet ministers Simeon Nyachae and Nicholas Biwott.
Some, like President Kenyatta, only added to an existing fleet.
Ruto however, acquired three Aerospatiale 350B3 Ecureuil Eurocopters, perhaps to ensure the Jubilee agenda is sold in every part of the country.
But Jubilee will not rule the skies. Last year ODM leader Raila bought a Bell 407.
Wiper leader Kalonzo acquired AS 350B3 Eurocopter, which crashed in October last year.
The chopper, registration number 5Y-DKK had been chartered by Tanzania’s ruling party Chama Cha Mapinduzi.
It went down in the expansive Selous Game Reserve enroute to the town of Ludewa in southwest Tanzania.
Kiambu Governor William Kabogo’s Eurocopter AS350B3 registration number 5Y–EXK also crashed while taking off at Wilson Airport in Nairobi.
Mudavadi owns a Eurocopter registration 5Y–TXM which, he says, makes his work easier.
“Mr Kivuti’s chopper registration 5Y–HKK was used in the recently concluded presidential campaigns in Tanzania and Uganda.
Former President Kibaki too owns one, registration 5Y–FWE, bought more than two years ago through a company associated with him.
Others are Biwott (registration 5Y–HNB), Simeon Nyachae (registration 5Y–HSN) which is registered under Aircraft Leasing Services, and former presidential candidate Kenneth who owns two Bell 407 choppers registration numbers 5Y–PK1 and 5Y–PKZ.
It is not only the political heavyweights who are acquiring choppers. Kibwezi West MP Patrick Musimba completed the assembly of his chopper, registration 5Y–PPS.
Former Mathira MP Ephraim Maina owns two Bell choppers registration 5Y–PSM and 5Y–MNW manufactured in 2006.
A senior aviation expert and pilot who spoke to The Standard on Sunday said acquisition and leasing of choppers by politicians has peaked over the past five years.
“Initially, it was only for the exclusive few who would drive into Wilson Airport and ask to hire a chopper. Today, there are several governors, MPs and even political aspirants who book to fly; some even call in late at night or drive into the airport and ask for a chopper to fly immediately,” he said.
But the choppers are not exclusively for political use. Even those owned by the political class are deployed to various other duties including business travel, tourism, filming and medical evacuation.
“We get so many politicians hiring the crafts for political meetings and medical evacuations and filming are being done by the choppers.
“Unlike in the past when it was seen as a luxury, a chopper is increasingly becoming a necessity for those who want speed and comfort,” said Captain Evans Sigilai, a long-serving helicopter pilot.
His colleague Captain Thomas Samoei said a chopper is hired at between Sh150,000 and Sh170,000 per hour and that the costs are only computed when the aircraft is airborne.
Among the most popular brands by Kenyan buyers is the French made AS Aerospatiale 350B3e Ecureuil Eurocopter. This model made its maiden flight in 1974. They cost up to Sh230 million, ex-factory price.
But the cost of transportation, assembly and insurance could push the price to about Sh300 million.
Another brand on demand is the Bell 407 which is a high-performance chopper with the ability to cruise at 246 km/h.
Its spacious cabin has five club-passenger seats with an additional passenger seat in the cockpit in single pilot operations.
Captain Samoei says a helicopter consumes fuel worth Sh30,000 every hour. Parking per night at Nairobi’s Wilson Airport is Sh10,000 while a standard fee of Sh1,000 is charged for every landing.
“Depending on the experience of the pilot, the insurance for a chopper ranges between Sh8 and Sh10 million charges are higher if the pilot has fewer flying hours,” he said.
Outside the political class, media owners SK Macharia of Royal Media Services and Joshua Chepkwony of Kass Media also make the list of helicopter owners.
Both media moguls own AS 350B2 rotor planes with Chepkwony owning one registered as 5Y–HJK while Macharia owns two registered as 5Y–DSB and 5Y–SGM.
Former KDF Chief of Staff Julius Karangi owns an AS350B3e that was acquired more than four years ago. Businessman Jimmy Wanjigi is also listed as an owner of a Eurocopter registeration 5Y– JWJ.
Big money widens choice and some, like Turkana Senator John Munyes, have moved away from the crowded chopper space for the peace and quiet of a fixed winged plane. He owns a six-seater Cessna U206 (registration 5Y–MJK) manufactured in 1979 and registered as a private plane by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority.
He often uses it to fly between Nairobi and his Turkana County.
Our investigations also revealed that as of August 31, Kenya had a total of 131 helicopters, active or grounded, 61 of which are privately owned.
How or whether these shiny new birds will affect next year’s polls remains to be seen. But the men buying them seem sure that their presence in the skies will sway the outcome on the ground.