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!
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!
Lounge pass were kindly granted to us although we are flying Economy!
The departure FIDS screen dominated by Fly Dubai.
Merhaba Lounge in Terminal 2
Good amount of food and drinks on offer.
The catering comes from Emirates Flight Kitchen. Very good taste!
The departure call was made 1 hour prior to departure. I think you would understand the reason why!
The agent took their time to process each passenger through to the bus. Our plane is actually parked very far from Terminal 2.
MD-82 5Y-AXN Ex-Alitalia
Manager James whispered to me that there were 3 seats left in Business class and he told us to take those seats quietly! 😉
Dubai – Berbera
Flight time 3hrs
FL320, Mach 0.756
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
Wake up, you’re flying to Mogadishu!
No prize on guessing which airline this MD80 was from!
Economy is almost full.
Rear view of Business cabin.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
The captain took us for a walk up around the plane. We seized this opportunity to take more photos.
Ian and Charlie flew this particular IL-18 with Daallo Airlines in the background, when it was still in service 3 years ago! Legends!
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!
Your high tech onboard office!
Total 65 passengers were joining the flight.
This MD-82 has really nice feature for pilot.
ONWARD FOR MOGADISHU
Flight time 1hr45mins
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!
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....