During March 2020, as the global Covid-19 pandemic began building momentum and South Africa went into Level 5 Lockdown, BAC Helicopters was requested by an NGO to send two Bell 206L-4 Long Ranger helicopters to Kenya to carry out an Emergency Desert Locust Survey. East Africa has recently been plagued by a Desert Locust invasion, wreaking havoc to food security in the region.

With the uncertainty brought about by the virus, as well as related travel restrictions, particularly cross border travel, planning for the challenging ferry of the two helicopters from South Africa to Kenya began immediately. The routing saw the two helicopters traverse through four foreign airspaces before landing in Kenya, which required significant logistical planning. The Humanitarian Aid nature of the mission helped to motivate the necessity of the trip at a time when most countries where in a lockdown state of emergency.   

The helicopters eventually departed the BAC base at Ballito in mid-May, having obtained all the necessary permits from the relevant authorities’ enroute. Our crew consisted of a pilot and engineer per helicopter; they were required to serve a mandatory quarantine period upon arrival in Nairobi, before the survey operations could begin.

The survey is being carried out in the northern part of Kenya, around the Turkana Lake. Our Long Ranger helicopters are equipped with specialised survey GPS systems, in order to map the areas where the locust swarms are present. Our pilot’s hold agricultural ratings and meet the required minimum level of experience in these types of operations, as stipulated by the contracting NGO. The information gathered by our survey helicopters is then transferred to chemical spraying aircraft, which target these specific problem areas in an effort to eradicate the locust swarms.

During early July, BAC Helicopters deployed a third helicopter to Kenya in support of the Desert Locust operations; an Airbus AS350-B2 equipped with a spray kit. This helicopter joined our two Long Ranger’s to enhance the operation by introducing spraying capabilities. Pest control spraying by helicopter has never been carried out in Kenya before, with BAC Helicopters being the first operator to demonstrate this to the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture.

BAC Helicopters is proud to be contributing to this Humanitarian Aid effort in East Africa; food security is vital to the sustainability and prosperity of the region. Through our professional service delivery, we are confident that we have made a positive impact in this noble cause.