African Express Route Map

African Express Route Map

BACKGROUND

African Express is a Kenyan company based in Nairobi specializing in providing air transport in and out of many destinations of Somalia. They have been operating a very interesting milk run from Dubai to Nairobi via Berbera, Mogadishu and Wajir for many years. I have wanted to do this flight since I moved to UAE in 2011 but due to my busy schedule I have been delaying it. Since May 2014, African Express have modified their schedule a little by using 2 planes (MD-82 and DC-9-32) to serve the milk run. The MD-82 is now based in Mogadishu and doing turns between Dubai and Mogadishu and stops in between. The DC-9-32 is based in Nairobi, it operates Nairobi – Mogadishu – Wajir – Nairobi flight that connect well for passengers coming off the MD-82 flight in Mogadishu onward to Nairobi.

My friends Charles, Ian and myself all wanted to go to Kenya to fly “the oldest passenger jet” in the world, which is a 1966 built DC-9-14 operates by FLYSAX. We were seeking an interesting way to get to Nairobi other than flying nonstop on A320 Qatar Airways or Etihad etc. At the right time, African Express have just published the new schedule which involves their very shy ad rare 1968 built DC-9-32 to operate on the second half of the milk run, so we have a perfect solution to get to Kenya!

Getting African Express ticket is not an easy task. Travel agent will only sell ticket to Berbera or Mogadishu. No ordinary passenger would like to fly multi stop flight through Somalia to Nairobi. So I have to wait for two days for African Express to get a fare quote for me. Fatima in Sharjah office was particularly helpful and did not raise any eyebrow on my milk run flight idea. She instructed the GSA in Abu Dhabi to issue 3 hand written conjunction ticket with a change of flight in Mogadishu. One way ticket to Nairobi cost 2,360 Dhs each (abour 650 dollars) From that point onward, everything else has been taken care of by the airline!

African Express Route Ticket

African Express Route Ticket

 

DAY OF DEPARTURE

African Express departs very early at 6:30am from Terminal 2 of Dubai, which used to be a Ghetto like terminal. Haven’t set foot in T 2 since my Fars Air Qeshm Yak-42 flight in 2011.

Terminal 2 have now been transformed too much larger size and most airlines have moved to Terminal 1 with the few exception of airlines from Iran, Afghanistan and African Express

We arrived at check-in counter about 4:30am and were greeted by duty manager Mr James. He has received message from Fatima in the sales office to look after us. Charles was able to secure an airside transit from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 after arriving few hours earlier on BA flight from London.

The check in was rather orderly. I was expecting more baggage than passenger!

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

Lounge pass were kindly granted to us although we are flying Economy!

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

The departure FIDS screen dominated by Fly Dubai.

African Express Dubai Airport check in

African Express Dubai Airport check in

 

Merhaba Lounge in Terminal 2

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Good amount of food and drinks on offer.

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

The catering comes from Emirates Flight Kitchen. Very good taste!

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 Marhaba Lounge

The departure call was made 1 hour prior to departure. I think you would understand the reason why!

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 departure area

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 departure area

The agent took their time to process each passenger through to the bus. Our plane is actually parked very far from Terminal 2.

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 departure area

Dubai Airport Terminal 2 departure area

MD-82 5Y-AXN Ex-Alitalia

African Express MD-82

African Express MD-82

African Express MD-82

African Express MD-82

Manager James whispered to me that there were 3 seats left in Business class and he told us to take those seats quietly! 😉

 

ONBOARD

Flight: XU522

Dubai – Berbera

Flight time 3hrs

FL320, Mach 0.756

Passengers: 154/155

ATD 0630

ATA 0850

There are total of 14 business class seat and 141 economy class seat on this MD-82.

The 3 of us sat in 1A, 1B and 1F. Legroom is limited in Row 1

African Express Business Class

African Express Business Class

African Express Business Class

African Express Business Class

Wake up, you’re flying to Mogadishu!

African Express Business Class

African Express Business Class

No prize on guessing which airline this MD80 was from!

African Express seat belt

African Express seat belt

Economy is almost full.

African Express economy class

African Express economy class

Rear view of Business cabin.

African Express business class

African Express business class

We took off on time on Runway 30L of Dubai. Making a big turn over Dubai city towards Oman and Saudi Arabia. Flight time to Berbera is 3 hours with cruising level at 32,000 feet. Breakfast is served.

African Express in-flight service

African Express in-flight service

After the breakfast, we were invited to the cockpit. The captain is from Venezulea and co-pilot is from Kenya. The captain is very nice and completely understands from an aviation enthusiast point of view. He offers us to stay in the cockpit for landing for all the sectors!

African Express MD-82 cockpit

African Express MD-82 cockpit

African Express MD-82 cockpit

African Express MD-82 cockpit

This particular MD-82 has upgraded avionics.

While there is only 1 jumpseat in the cockpit and 3 aviation enthusiasts. We used a simple game of paper, rock, scissors to decide who gets the jumpseat. But that didn’t go well J So we end up writing our name on piece of paper and let a Somali passenger to decide our fate. Ian got the landing in Berbera, I got the takeoff in Berbera and Charles got the final landing in Mogadishu!

While I missed out the landing opportunity, the captain was so kind to offer mount my camera on the dashboard of the MD-80 so he can record the landing for me.

African Express MD-82 cockpit view

African Express MD-82 cockpit view

African Express MD-82 cockpit view

African Express MD-82 cockpit view

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Please view the landing into Berbera on below Youtube video. It is not far from landing on Mars!

 

Temperate was soaring to 42 degrees with gusty wind as you can see from landing video. From June to August is stormy and wet season for Somalia. I have been informed the colour is amazing in winter, which I should do the same flight again!

Interesting history of Berbera Airport from Wikipedia:

The Berbera airport has a 4,140m (13,582ft) runway, one of the longest on the continent.The runway was built by the Soviet Union (USSR) in the mid-1970s in order to counter the United States' military presence in the region. It was rented by NASA at a cost of $40 million USD per year,and used as an emergency landing site for the Space Shuttle from 1980 until 1991, when the government of former President of Somalia Siad Barre collapsed.

 

AT BERBERA

All the transit passengers to Mogadishu were requested to remain onboard while half of the plane load got off in Berbera. The bus and cars can drive pretty much straight up to the plane. Who needs a parking lot?

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

The captain took us for a walk up around the plane. We seized this opportunity to take more photos.

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Ian and Charlie flew this particular IL-18 with Daallo Airlines in the background, when it was still in service 3 years ago! Legends!

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

This photo was taken later from the cockpit, where the captain slow down the taxi to allow me photograph “a side on” photo of her!

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Berbera Airport transit, Somaliland

Your high tech onboard office!

African Express Cockpit during transit

African Express Cockpit during transit

Total 65 passengers were joining the flight.

African Express load sheet

African Express load sheet

This MD-82 has really nice feature for pilot.

African Express MD-82 cockpit

African Express MD-82 cockpit

 

ONWARD FOR MOGADISHU

Flight: XU522

Berbera- Mogadishu

Flight time 1hr45mins

FL320

ATD 0930

ATA 1115

It was quite an uneventful 1.5 hour flight to Mogadishu. Drinks were served in the cabin. The only noticeable thing was the passengers going to Mogadishu has more stern, angryier look than the ones got off in Berbera. I interpret this as a result of many years of civil war. They look unmoved and rather unfriendly towards foreigners. I think there were only 3 foreigners on the plane.

Charlie got the jumpseat on this leg and my camera is on the dashboard with the support of a towel!

Landing into Mogadishu is preferred from the sea to avoid any risk of anti aircraft gun fire. As far as I know, a B747F landed from the city side OK. Even with 14 knots of tail wind, we were landing from the sea and not taking any chances!

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

At Mogadishu Airport, Somalia

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Please view the landing into Mogadishu. We landed smoothly and took almost the whole runway to slow down. You can hear the pilots commentary on landing into Mogadishu. You may notice there are some containers next to the airport, those are hotel equivalent safe accommodations

 

 To be Continued....

Review: Farewell EVA Air B747-400 Shanghai to Taipei