A Kenya Airways jet. Dan Okwiri, who was the Cargo Capacity Revenue Manager, details how the west African route is the most affected since customers usually carry or sent items such as mobile phones and hard cash. www.businesstoday.co.ke
A Kenya Airways jet. Dan Okwiri, who was the Cargo Capacity Revenue Manager, details how the west African route is the most affected since customers usually carry or sent items such as mobile phones and hard cash. [Photo/Business Today/File]

Cases of cargo being lost while on transit are commonplace in the aviation industry.

However, a former Kenya Airways insider has offered inside information on what really happens and how.

In this high stakes line of duty, even porters are “proud owners” of expensive Rolex watches stolen from customers’ luggage.

The smooth operators even own four-wheel Land Cruisers.

In a sad memoir published on his Facebook page last week, Dan Okwiri narrates how he was tasked to clean up the mess created by management blunders after the December 2007 Boeing 737-800 Doula crash that killed 114 people.

Okwiri, who was then the Cargo Capacity Revenue Manager, details how the West African route was the most affected since customers usually carried or sent items such as mobile phones and hard cash on the KQ flights.

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“JKIA is huge and by the time we are done with the morning loading you have easily walked 7-10 kilometres in a space of an hour. The flights to Doula were always sensitive as the cargo were often valuables, usually mobile phones. The Cameroonian traders would fly from DLA transiting Nairobi to Guangzhou in China carrying hard cash to the tune of USD 10,000 to USD 100,000 to buy phones. They were so regular on these flights that some traders made the trip twice a month. They were literally mules,” says Okwiri.

He adds, “West Africans are extremely entrepreneurial (especially women) & hard-working people. Their consignments were not easy to handle due to the syndicates at JKIA airport who made a living pilfering valuable cargo. The airport is a closed community with many stakeholders and we all knew each other well. Some baggage porters at the airport dot Rolex watches and the best ones at the game spotted 4 wheel land cruisers. Your guess on how they come to own them is as good as mine.” writes Okwiri.

Here is a verbatim excerpt from Okwiri, who warns that Kenya Airways, which has been recording losses amounting to billions of shillings, risks losing out the lucrative cargo business to competitors such as Ethiopian Airlines.

At the time, I had great passion for my work, it was at the pinnacle of my aviation career as Cargo Capacity Revenue, Manager. It was high pressure job and amongst my deliverables was Revenue target of Kes 100 million a week. Meeting this revenue was constant stress. To attain it was not about just selling space but ensuring that cargo was not stuck at the KQ hub. That was a constant nightmare. In the cargo industry we have a saying that “cargo doesn’t talk” and cause of that you have to keep it under your watch or by the way it will easily stray. Because KQ is primary a passenger airline, cargo was (and probably still is) relegated to lower priority.

Does it mean it gives KQ pocket change for it delivered Usd 60 million year (Kes 6 billion) and delivery it was my call. It one thing to sell it’s another to ensure that cargo gets uplifted, I would often be at the aircraft ramp at 5am to ensure done otherwise is always ignored. That money hour is the busy hour in JKIA airport and it’s called the morning wave.

Some baggage porters at the airport dot Rolex watches.

Dan Okwiri, former Cargo Revenue manager at KQ

Loading team performed a hard job in treacherous conditions. Its constantly very windy at the airport being a treeless plain not to mention the constant blast off engines as aircrafts take off and rain and chilly weather are norm. Having spent 25 years at the airport you now know why till to date I never wear a sweater or a jacket no matter the weather conditions. My body had no option but to adjust. Cargo loading requires grit & it can be physical.

Especially on the 737-800s which was the workhorse fleet to DLA, since this aircraft is not containerized the loading was bulk (its a bit like stuffing your car boot) do it in a proper way and you will get more cargo in. JKIA is huge and by the time we are done with the morning loading you have easily walked 7-10 kilometers in a space of an hour.

Why flights to Doula were a sensitive affair

The flights to Doula were always sensitive as the cargo were often valuables, usually mobile phones. The Cameroonian traders would fly from DLA transiting Nairobi to Guangzhou in China carrying hard cash to the tune of Usd 10,000 to Usd 100,000 to buy phones. They were so regular on these flights that some traders made the trip twice a month. The were literally mules. West Africans are extremely entrepreneurial (especially women) & hard working people . Their consignments were not easy to handle due to the syndicates at JKIA airport who made a living pilfering valuable cargo.

The airport is a closed community with many stakeholders and we all knew each other well. Some baggage porters at the airport dot Rolex watches and the best ones at the game spotted 4 wheel land cruisers. Your guess on how they come to own them is as good as mine. I remember on one occasion a whole container of mobiles vanished. The value a tidy sum. How that can happen in a high-security area defeats my logic till today.

I would, therefore, make sure that I was personally at hand or my sales team at the airside to oversee the cargo operations staff so that the mobiles could transit safely. Over time, I got to know the West African traders personally and they were my bread & butter as they paid top dollar for the freight space. I needed their business to enable meet the KQ Revenue budget targets.”

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