John Buckley: Newspaper Vendor Who Went On To Own Safarilink Aviation

John Buckley is the co-founder of Safarilink Aviation, a Kenyan airline that operates scheduled and private charter flights to different destinations across East Africa.

He founded the airline in 2004 alongside Anu Vohora.

Buckley served as the airline’s managing director for 16 years until 2020 when he handed over to his successor, Alex Avedi.

In this article, WoK looks at his career path and the journey to founding the airline.

First job

In an interview with How We Made It In Africa, Buckley disclosed that his first job was delivering Christmas posts.

At the time, the former Safarilink MD was in campus.

During holiday, he said, he would sell newspapers on street corners while digging trenches for a local company.

“I worked for the local electricity board digging trenches manually and at Cadbury on a production line putting nuts on top of chocolates for several weeks,” Buckley said.

He noted that his grandfather has had the biggest impact in his career and his mother who was also his mentor.

“My grandfather was a real traditional stickler and he used to say, ‘If a job is worth doing, it’s worth doing well’; It means don’t just do it sloppy, do it properly, and that stuck with me

“My mother was quite a mentor in lots of ways, and made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow,” Buckley disclosed.

Buckley noted that despite not being a pilot or engineer, he has managed to successfully run the airline due to his managerial skills.

“As a manager you need to be able to switch from topic to topic really quickly and remember things you need to follow up on

“I am great believer in what is called ‘management by walking around’. As you get higher up the ladder, you can’t get isolated. You have to go down to the ground floor of the operations,” he added.


The airline has a network of connecting domestic scheduled services to all the best safari destinations within Kenya and across the border into northern Tanzania.

Based at Wilson Airport, Nairobi, it operates 14 aircraft ranging in size from 13 to 52 seats.

It provides daily scheduled flights to Maasai Mara‚ Amboseli‚ Tsavo West‚ Naivasha‚ Nanyuki‚ Lewa Downs‚ Samburu‚ Lamu‚ Kisumu‚ Kitale‚ Kilimanjaro‚ Loisaba‚ Chyulu Hills‚ Malindi‚ Migori‚ Vipingo‚ Diani Beach and Zanzibar.

It can also provide private charter flights if a client’s particular requirement or timing cannot be met by the scheduled services. 

Safarilink currently employs 251 staff of whom 46 are pilots.

The airline is also a member of the Kenya Association of Air Operators. 

Safarilink vs Anyang’ Nyong’o

On Thursday, February 9, Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o took to his social media platforms to protest high domestic charges by Safarilink.

The county boss claimed that he was charged Ksh 19,000 for a one-way flight between Wilson Airport and Kisumu Airport, noting that he usually pays between Ksh 5,500 and Ksh 7,000.

“Why is Safarilink engaged in this rip-off of its passengers in a bid to collect obscene profits from gullible public? Do we have a consumer protection organization to act against this kind of rip-off?,” he said.

Governor Nyong’o instructed the staff of the County Government of Kisumu not to use Safarilink for any trip.

In their response, Safarilink said the airline’s prices are based on demand, peak travel days and time of booking.

The airline said their fares to Kisumu range from Ksh 5,500 to Ksh 19,000.

“In this instance, you booked this flight directly from our website the evening before the flight and hence the fare was based on the last seat available,” the statement read.

Safarilink further said that they expect returns after having to navigate through a difficult three years during COVID-19 with no concessions or support from the government.