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Kenya Airways to cut flights as pilot battle hampers recruitment

Kenya Airways Plc said a shortage of pilots is costing $50 million a year in canceled flights, forcing it to cut journeys until more can be hired.

The loss-making airline has 435 pilots but needs another 62, Director of Operations Paul Njoroge said in a letter to the Kenya Airline Pilots Association, a copy of which has been seen by Bloomberg News. The two sides are at loggerheads over pay, training and aviator nationality that have stifled recruitment, he said.

“This means the market share we have fought hard to win shall be eroded and winning this back will be a much harder task,” Njoroge said.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest airline can ill afford to reduce flights after nearly tripling its first-half losses to 8.06 billion shillings ($77.7 million). Years of weak financial performance and pressure from state-owned regional rival Ethiopian Airlines Group has prompted the government to consider taking back ownership, while the Nairobi-based airline is weakening ties with long-time partner Air France-KLM to strengthen its hand.

Kenya Airways is looking to hire 20 pilots on two-year contracts, Njoroge said. Their nationality is an issue however, as Kalpa opposes the employment of foreigners on the basis there are enough jobless pilots in the East African nation. In response, the airline argues most of them are unskilled to fly its jets.

Kalpa is battling with the airline management about a further productivity-based pay boost, despite a raise that came with the airline’s financial reorganization in 2017. the union says the last real increase was eight years ago. While management wants more productivity, the pilots say the company owes them 40,000 days of annual leave days.

Of Kenya’s 435 pilots, 44 are undergoing training to be promoted, as required by a Collective Bargaining Agreement. This means 10% of its pilots are out of commission for six to 24 months.

“This system is ineffective and archaic, and it contributes to the current shortage,” Njoroge said. The airline needs 106 pilots to plug the hole left by those in training, he said.


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