NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 8 – Kenya Airways has mounted an operation to rescue passengers who have been stranded in Athens since Saturday.
The national carrier’s Chief Operating Officer Mbuvi Ngunze said the airline is in the process of obtaining the necessary permits for the plane that will relieve flight KQ117.
“We are only waiting for civil aviation clearances enroute because that doesn’t depend on us, that depends on airspaces in Sudan, in Ethiopia and through to Egypt before we can send the flight,” Ngunze told Capital FM News.
Nzunge said 16 of the stranded passengers were already on their way to Nairobi onboard a cargo flight, including four who were unable to leave the airport to be temporarily housed at a hotel as they lacked the necessary documents.
“We actually eventually managed to get all but four through to a hotel on Saturday evening but we had diverted an aircraft last night to pick up the cargo that was on ground and we were able to pick up 16 from there so that shows you we were trying to be proactive to make sure we could mitigate for those people who were unable to be accommodated,” Ngunze said.
KQ’s COO said they were forced to send another plane and crew to Athens after the Greece Civil Aviation declined to clear flight KQ117 for take off despite Boeing and the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority having already cleared the plane.
“Last night when all guests were at the airport and the crew were ready to go, we had a last minute hitch with the Greek civil Aviation authorities who indicated they would not give us clearance to depart. We have not yet gotten from them the reason they did not give us that clearance,” Ngunze said.
Ngunze also defended the airline’s handling of the situation in the face of complaints by the stranded passengers that they received no formal communication from the airline as to how soon they would be able to resume their journey and were forced to make due at the airport for long hours.
“We do not have a ground presence in Athens. We were relying on a third party but that is not an excuse. What we did is that we tried to get in touch with them to handle our teams as best as possible and communicate on the ground. Secondly, because it was a diversion there were people on board who required temporary visas to access hotels but that was not at our discretion, it was at the discretion of the immigration authorities,” Ngunze said.
He however assured the stranded passengers and their loved ones that once clearance was obtained for the rescue flight, a departure and arrival time would be communicated to them.
“We will give an update in the next two hours by which time we should have confirmed about the onward clearances and then we will confirm the actual time of departure of the flight from Nairobi and the expected time of departure from Athens,” Ngunze said.
Flight KQ117 was diverted to Athens after taking off from Paris on Saturday once a problem with the landing gear door was discovered and despite assurances by KQ that a spare had been obtained and repairs made, the Greek aviation authorities declined a request to have the plane leave for Nairobi on Sunday night.