Air transportation has played a key role in the transfer of weapons, narcotics and precious minerals, fuelling the war economies that have devastated much of Africa in recent decades. At the same time, those air cargo carriers transporting these commodity flows that have been so destabilizing are also involved in humanitarian aid and peacekeeping missions.
Air transport companies named in United Nations Sanctions Committee reports covering weapons deliveries to Angola, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan and Zimbabwe have all serviced humanitarian aid or peacekeeping operations. They may avoid scrutiny by registering their aircraft in "flag of convenience" states where safety oversight is poor and corruption is common. As a result, their aircraft have crashed more frequently than others, sometimes with narcotics, weapons, humanitarian aid or peacekeeping officials on board.
Bluebird Aviation is one of the main providers of the narcotic khat to Somalia. Khat is described by the United Nations as "one of the significant elements of Somalia's war economy." A United Nations Security Council Sanctions Committee report stated that Bluebird Aviation operated approximately 250 khat flights to Somalia per month and that in the early 1990s Somali warlord Osman Hassan Ali "Atto" reportedly acquired a stake in the company. Bluebird Aviation have continued to fly khat to Somalia, the trade in which they acknowledge is controlled by warlords. In November 2009 a Bluebird Aviation aircraft carrying khat destined for Somalia crashed in Kenya. On 29 April 2008 another Bluebird Aviation aircraft en route to Somalia crashed. On 23 May 2004 two Bluebird Aviation aircraft, one of which was carrying 1500 kg of khat crashed. In addition to supplying narcotics used as a stimulant by Somali militiamen, Bluebird Aviation state that they offer humanitarian relief flights. Bluebird Aviation claim in the "current clientele" section of its website that all the major UN agencies and many prominent humanitarian NGOs are clients, together with the aid agencies or embassies of the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Germany and China.
US private military companies have used unsafe arms traffickers to transport African Union (AU) peacekeepers and humanitarian aid to Somalia. In 2008 and 2009, DynCorp contracted Aerolift, a company with aircraft documented in a 2006 UN Security Council Sanctions Committee report as illicitly supplying large quantities of weapons to al-Shabaab, an Islamist organization that controls much of southern Somalia. The UN stated in 2006 that the recipient of the arms was Sheikh Mukhtar Roboow. The US State Department alleges that Roboow provides 'logistical support to Al-Qaida'. On 9 March 2009 the same Aerolift-operated aircraft used in the smuggling operation was contracted for a DynCorp mission to Somalia. It crashed shortly after take-off, killing 11 people, including three highranking Burundian peacekeepers from the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISON). Aerolift has an extremely poor safety record: the fatal March crash came three weeks after another crash of an Aerolift Antonov 12 at Luxor in Egypt.