Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Airwing was established in 1990 with over 40 pilots to provide air support services to wildlife management across the country. The airwing, based at Wilson Airport in Nairobi, provides a diverse range of services in support of the KWS wildlife management and protection activities with its fleet of 12 light aircraft and three larger aircraft, including a Bell 206 helicopter, C-182, C-180, C-206, C-208, Bell 407 and 4 HUSKYS.
The recently acquired Bell 407 helicopter is set to further elevate KWS conservation work as well as generate more revenue for the organisation. In addition, KWS now boasts of four hangars in Meru, Kamboyo in Tsavo West National Park, Mweiga in Aberdares, Nyeri and Wilson airport.
KWS is the only parastatal body in the country licensed by Kenya Civil Aviation to maintain aircraft from both public and private sector. In addition, the Wilson hangar maintains a total of 46 aircraft for Kenya Forest Service, LEWA Wildlife Conservancy, and Tsavo Trust, Kenya Police, and Mara Elephant Project (MEP), DSRS logistics, Kenya Power and other public and private owners.
Among specialised skills KWS pilots have are security and patrol flights, veterinary support services for research and translocation purposes, animal tracking, wildlife census, firefighting, rescue work, and transportation of rations and supplies, including ammunition.
With 59 parks and reserves spread over a country of 584,896 sq. km, the KWS Airwing is on permanent standby to fly for action anywhere in Kenya, either for routine monitoring and field trips or security operations and emergency evacuations.
Additional field - operation centres are located in Mountain (Aberdare), Central Rift, Eastern (Meru), Tsavo East, Tsavo West, and Lamu and Marsabit. Each member of the Airwing has to be more than just a pilot. Knowledge and understanding of Kenya's terrain and wildlife is vital to ensure that flying time, often difficult conditions, is dedicated to the mission, which may require sensitive, low-level flying.
Airwing does a robust surveillance, covering a total of 30,000 Nautical miles (NM) per month across all conservation areas in Kenya. KWS is also keen in developing ‘SMART’ application which is intended to aid in distinguishing several species of wild animals in national parks, doing away with systems of conducting animal census and accommodating large volumes of data.
The cardinal aim of enhancing sleek operations in the Airwing is to establish cordial relationship with all conservationists and the aviation industry. KWS Airwing has been in operation for more than 30 years, which has changed the image and perception of people about KWS over time.
KWS pilots play a key role in corporate social responsibility when visiting arid and semi arid areas. They interact with communities living around the parks, a practice that has aided in curbing poaching in the recent times due to the information they gather from members of these communities.
Pilots working in the Airwing are propelled by their innate passion to carry out their duties and their readiness to adapt to dynamic changes. The Airwing workers operate on “no blame policy” where they undertake their duties without compulsion and unnecessary constraints.