Kenya's Astral Aviation (8V, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) has denied media reports that it has been banned from flying to Somalia to transport election material to Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. The breakaway region considers itself independent from Somalia but is not recognised by any other country as a sovereign state. It is due to hold local and parliamentary elections on May 31, 2021.

"The Somali CAA [Civil Aviation Authority] has not banned us from flying to Somalia contrary to media reports, however, we will only uplift humanitarian and medical cargo only to Somalia," Astral Aviation Chief Executive Officer Sanjeev Gadhia confirmed to ch-aviation by email.

The SCAA was not immediately available to comment, but the cargo specialist on its social media earlier had shared it had received permission from Kenyan authorities for the flights.

The East African reported Kenya on May 13 gave Astral Aviation 72-hours to ferry equipment for the Somaliland elections from Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta, via Djibouti to Hargeisa.

The airline was chartered to fly a DC-9-30(CF), 5Y-UAE (msn 47707), and a B727-200(F), 5Y-MWM (msn 21247), for the purpose, the newspaper said.

This follows after Kenya, in tit-for-tat diplomacy, last week banned flights to and from Somalia until August 2021, except for humanitarian and medical reasons.

The move was related to a long-standing dispute between the countries about the import from Kenya to Somalia of miraa/khat, a psychoactive herb. The SCAA had announced that shipments of the stimulant to Somalia remained prohibited despite a recent thawing of relations between the neighbouring states. The SCAA reportedly had grounded two aircraft of Kenya’s Bluebird Aviation (Kenya) (BBZ, Nairobi Wilson) for transporting miraa despite the existing ban.

The diplomatic roller coaster between the countries followed intervention by Qatar which resulted in an announcement on May 6 by Somalia that it was ready to restore ties with Kenya after having cut relations in December.

In a move towards formal recognition of the breakaway state, Kenya has opened a consulate in Somaliland while its "president", Muse Bihi Abdi, has been to Kenya on an official visit, a move that has angered Mogadishu, which is accusing Kenya of interfering in its internal affairs.