The United States Government has put out a new warning to civilian airlines flying in Kenyan airspace to be cautious of possible attacks by militant groups, a move that could intensify anxiety over the already weighed down airline industry, which has seen massive financial losses due to travel restrictions by nations in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19.

The US Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) explained that the advisory was consistent with the fact that the Somalia-based terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, remains in possession of weapons capable of hitting aircraft at low altitudes of up to 25,000 feet — putting at risk arrival and departure phases of flights, especially on the popular aviation route through northeastern Kenya and Somalia.

Al-Shabaab militia with RPGs

The air routes covered by the FAA warning, include those connecting Nairobi and Far Eastern countries such as Dubai (UAE), India, and China, among other destinations serviced by major airlines.

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Planes plying the routes overpass eastern Kenya counties such as Garissa and exit into neighbouring Somalia.

“The Kesom (FIR) to Mogdu (FIR), which is covered by the warning is a shorter and direct route from Nairobi to Far Eastern countries hence the reason airlines prefer it,” an aviation consultant told the Business Daily on condition of anonymity.

Whereas airlines can choose alternative routes, they often opt for the shortest ones.

“The alternative route is Nairobi (FIR), Addis (FIR) and Djibouti (FIR). It’s a longer route hence more fuel is used, meaning more costs,” the expert added.

While primarily active in Somalia, the terror group has recently shown its capability and intent to conduct attacks targeting Kenyan government security forces, civilians, and western interests in the country, including joint civil-military airfields, mainly near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia and in the coastal region of Kenya adjacent to Somalia.

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“The January 5, 2020, complex attack on Camp Simba, which is co-located with Manda Bay Airport (HKLU), destroyed or damaged multiple aircraft, demonstrating the group’s intent and capabilities to target the aviation sector,” said the FAA in a February 26, 2021 advisory.

In Somalia, Al-Shabaab has conducted multiple raids targeting civil aviation, including indirect fire attacks on Aden Adde International Airport (HCMM) and remote airfields where international troops are collocated.

The US says Al-Shabaab possesses or has access to, a variety of weapons, including small arms, indirect fire weapons such as mortars and rockets and anti-aircraft-capable weapons, including man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS).

“Such weapons present a risk to civil aircraft operating at low altitudes, including during the arrival and departure phases of flight and/or to airports and aircraft on the ground, especially at remote airfields located east of 40 degrees east longitude. Some MANPADS have the capability to reach a maximum altitude of 25,000 feet,” said the US Aviation regulator.

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