It is the first day for viewing the 12 junk aircraft on auction at Wilson Airport and Kenyans are trickling in to see for themselves the “cheap” aeroplanes advertised on July 23.
I call Galaxy Auctioneers, the firm in charge of the auction, for directions. The contact refers me to the Kenya Airports Authority procurement office at the airport. At the procurement office, I am referred to the security office for clearance.
After providing my ID, I am given a pass then told to await a vehicle. No one is allowed to enter the premises on foot. And no one can access it with their own vehicle.
As I wait, more people trickle in. It appears the social media buzz about the planes inspired many to visit and have a look at the planes.
We are to enter in teams of four, so that we can fit in the double-cabin pick-up that is taking prospective buyers to inspect the planes that are being disposed of by the authority in charge of managing airports.
My teammates are Anthony Mutugi and Judy Njenga from Thika and Nairobi-based Alfred Njema.
Mr Mutugi and Ms Njenga are from Toto Bouncing Castles, a company that provides a range of children’s playing services in Thika. They are here to see if they can buy a plane or two to be re-fitted and added to their facility. They plan to make it a source of joy and also education for the young ones who come to their premises.
Mr Njema is a seasoned aeronautical engineer who has formerly worked with the Kenya air force, Kenya Airways and Etihad. He is currently engaged in the sale of aeroplane spare parts and he is here to see if he can buy a plane to extract parts that can be sold.
After waiting for about an hour, during which more people come in for the same purpose, our team is ushered in. We have to undergo security checks before entering the airport and once in, the driver starts the engine to begin what will be about 45 minutes of visiting various spots at the airport.
With the exception of the plane, whose reserve price for the auction is Sh10 million, the planes have been grounded for a long time, and they are basically scrap metal, with vital components removed.
The Sh10 million one is the only plane parked near a runway and its cockpit is intact.
The others are in various junkyard spots rotting away. After the trip round the busy airport, Mr Mutugi, the proprietor of Toto Bouncing Castles, says he will bid for two of the planes.
“On auction day I’ll be here, definitely. I’ll bid for two aircraft shells and I hope I’ll get them,” he says.
The auction day is on August 9 and the 13-day viewing window ends a day prior.
Mr Mutugi says such aircraft, which he will ferry to Thika by road, will be a vital addition to the children’s facilities.
His company’s head of marketing, Ms Njenga, says having the planes will increase the value of their park.
“Not everyone can come to Wilson Airport. So, we thought, ‘Why not have it in our park?’” she poses. “We have a target group, which are the schools, mainly the school kids and also the Thika people in general.”
Mr Mutugi and Ms Njenga have come for the first day of viewing after seeing the advertisement on social media.
“I think it was something captivating. We have never had such a chance. So we said, ‘Why not be the first?’ And we’re set; we’re ready. We’ll be preparing to pay for the aircraft then we can have it,” she says.
Mr Njema, being an engineer, spends the longest time viewing every plane the team visited. He takes particular interest in the the 5Y-BPD, formerly operated by Air Kenya Express. He takes photos and videos of most of the aircraft.
“I want to assess whether I can purchase whatever I can get for spares and, two, whether we can bring back that aircraft to operation; but mainly because of spares,” he says.
The prospect of reviving the planes, he reckons, will be an uphill task.
“It’s not easy. You may not to get them back into service. All the parts have been removed,” says Mr Njema. “Even for spares, the spares that can move fast have been taken.”
How about the Sh10 million plane? Can it be revived?
He says it is more complicated than it appears, as it will require a lengthy certification process that requires detailed documentation from its operator, Tandrill Limited.
“I tend to think it can only be used as a training piece which is not moving. But Sh10 million on that one is a bit on the higher side. If it was sound, I would offer Sh5 million plus or minus maybe one or two,” he says with an engineer’s finality.
Some Kenyans on social media had mulled the idea of acquiring some of the planes and convert them into restaurants, and Mr Njema says that would be a “brilliant idea”.
“Imagine you and your small kids going to meet in a restaurant that is an aircraft. It’s very exciting,” he says.
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