In 2003, a 24-seater Gulfstream carrying senior members of Kenya's newly sworn-in cabinet took off from a desolate airstrip in Busia--a remote town in western Kenya but the aircraft never made it far from the badly neglected airstrip. It crashed a few minutes after takeoff, killing the two pilots and one minister and leaving three ministers and several members of parliament seriously injured.
A report released months later by a commission of inquiry set up to investigate the crash blamed the poor state of the airstrip--a legacy of the 24-year rule of former President Daniel arap Moi--and negligence by owners of the plane.
Many airports and airstrips in Africa suffer the same fate as the Busia airstrip in Kenya. Most are saddled with outdated air traffic and navigation technologies, infrastructure deficiencies and a lack of skills. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA - US aviation's regulatory body) Africa has 4.5% of the world's air traffic, but accounts for 25% of total accidents. A Canadian firm is trying to change this by using the most abundant natural resource in Africa--the sun: "Simple things such as the lighting of airstrips and airports can go a long way in ensuring that they are safe," says Sadiq Mire, the chief executive of Blip Solutions, a company based in Kenya's capital Nairobi. Blip Solutions is the sole authorised distributor for Carmanah Aviation Solar Lighting Systems.
A publicly traded company, Carmanah Technologies Corporation manufactures advanced solar products and specialises in Light Emitting Diodes (LED) products with over 250,000 installations worldwide.
According to Mire, who distributes the solar products across Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, Carmanah's solar-powered LED aviation lights are the best way to light airstrips in Africa where electricity supplies are often volatile and diesel is becoming ever more expensive--but sunshine is abundant. "Airport authorities in Africa should embrace the solar-powered aviation lights, which in the long run are cheap and would greatly assist in making our air space safer," he says.
Although Africa is endowed with sunlight throughout the year, the use of solar technology is very low due to the heavy initial cost of setting up the required technology. Carmanah, does not sell its products cheaply. Its...