We are a bit overdue for a general ‘state of the nation Mercy Air’ address but hopefully this can fill people in on some of the nitty gritty of what we have been doing recently.
The good news is that we all continue to be busy here and keep healthy. There have been, and continue to be, some obstacles to overcome especially on the flying side.
The two main issues concern our access into Mozambique.
Moz Civil Aviation have been trying to comply with worldwide standards the last year or so (which is a good thing) but they have instigated and been over zealous with a number of rules and regs designed to show to the world that they’re serious.
One of these has concerned ‘cabotage’ which is where a foreign operator provides a service in another country. It would be like Lufthansa offering a regular service from London to Newcastle when there are UK companies who can do it. Usually you’re allowed to fly into the country and then a local operator will provide onward travel. We have traditionally flown into a Moz port of entry and then gone on to other destinations with our passengers, maybe even flown around a bit and then left. This is OK if it’s you’re private plane owner but we are technically a commercial operator because we charge for our services. At least we take our own passengers but our heli almost always goes in empty and ferries Mozambicans around – even though they are doctors, nurses etc. With the rules being policed more avidly we have had a number of occasions where we planned a trip but the flight permit we apply for a week before we go was refused. We were told that we could only fly to the first port of entry and then a local operator must continue with the rest of the journey. We can see the sense and legality of that, but there is usually no other operator to do this.
We flew over to see the authorities a couple of times to present our case and got a reasonable response – although not quite the one we would have opted for. They understand what we do, that we are non-profit and that we are there to help the country and its people. They will give us a temporary waiver for the time being on the understanding that we will apply for a Moz operator’s permit – which we hope could take years. This is awkward as we don’t want to register our aircraft in Moz as then we wouldn’t be able to offer a commercial service in SA or go to other countries if requested. Pilots would also need to get a Moz commercial license which is written in Portuguese and the chance of that happening for the likes of us who struggle with English, pertains to zero.
These things, although frustrating and causing delays, can be overcome – eventually.
This doesn’t mean we’re not flying though. We have a number of requests for ‘commercial’ lodge hop transfers usually within the Lowveld but sometimes to/from Jhb Int. This helps keep us current and last year we were able to fund three mission outreaches to Moz from the money raised.
Another issue though is probably even more African – political unrest. Whilst falling short of advising against all unnecessary travel in Moz UK Government advisories state:
‘There are high tensions in Mozambique mainly between the opposition party’s militia and state security forces.
There have been armed attacks on vehicles and police are escorting traffic in certain areas in convoys which have themselves been targets of fatal attacks. ‘
There is sporadic fighting between RENAMO and the government forces of FRELIMO only 60km north of Chimoio (our most visited mission base) and almost daily we hear missionaries reporting incidents. This type of situation, where the main opposition party controls its own army is highly unusual and casts a shadow over the country’s economic and political stability. The problem is that the areas of concern are where we fly to most often. The two main missions we fly in support of in the central parts of the country have advised us not to visit them for the time being. It remains to be seen how the situation will evolve in the future, but an escalation of tensions should not be excluded as a possible scenario.
Because we can’t fly up north right now, we have intensified our flying in the southern parts of Mozambique. As well as the routine rural clinics with local nurses we can continue to fly for the local churches and missions. There is also the possibility of flying to the far north. We have also been approached by MAF who still exist in SA but don’t have any aircraft in the country as theirs have been re-located to S. Sudan and Kenya where they can be better utilised. They have medical and education programmes into some of the more remote northern areas of S. Africa which they have asked us to help with. The heli side have also had meetings with the Swazi Civil Aviation with a view to providing help with rural clinics.
So, challenges on the Mercy Air side but we can see light at the end of the tunnel and there are a few possible alternate developments coming as a result.
Rain – or rather the lack of. I know it’s not just the Lowveld, South or even southern Africa but by now dams should be full after the summer rain. Our local one is at about 45% which I don’t think will be enough to see the area through the winter.
Mercy Air team