Sky Navigator, a South Sudanese virtual airline that launched operations in 2019, has laid out an ambitious plan to normalize air transport in its war-torn home nation.
The company is locally owned but relies on chartering aircraft from foreign partners due to the limited capabilities of the South Sudan Civil Aviation Authority, which lacks the ability to issue Air Operator’s Certificates (AOCs) and has ceded control of its airspace to Sudan since the two countries separated in 2011.
A pair of 12-seater Cessna Caravans is currently operated by the airline under short-term contracts with Horn Aviation of Kenya and Fly Zanzibar of Tanzania.
But managing director Cosmos Gombura is aiming to replace these units with five of Sky Navigator’s own Caravans this year – three on long-term leases and two purchased outright – as well as pressing the regulator to begin issuing local operating licenses as soon as possible.
“[At the moment] if we want to purchase an aircraft I have to choose between Kenya or Uganda or Tanzania to register it there,” he told me. “So the prize of holding the aircraft gets taken away from South Sudan and goes to another country.
“Most of the agreements that we look at right now are getting away from this partnership kind of arrangement and having the AOC directly under our control.”
The airline’s first new plane is due to be delivered by Airworks Kenya within a fortnight.
Management are also considering switching one or two of the upcoming Caravans to Czech-made Let L-410 Turbolets, which have a larger capacity of 19 seats.
Sky Navigator launched operations as Sky Travel and Aviation in March 2019, initially running charter flights from capital city Juba to nearby cities in the south of the country such as Yei and Torit. In October, the airline launched twice weekly flights from Juba to Gulu in northern Uganda. It also operates less frequent charters across the border to the Kidepo Valley National Park.