Kenya Airways Under Fire From Pilots For Flying 787s Too Fast

Kenya Airways has come into conflict with its pilots’ union regarding the speed at which it has asked crews to fly the Boeing 787 on a certain route. The measure on the Kenyan flag carrier’s Nairobi-Guangzhou route is designed to cut costs. However, the union has asserted that the plan, which also reduces the number of pilots onboard the flights, is illegal.

Kenya Airways Boeing 787
Kenya Airways flies the 787 to Guangzhou once or twice a week. Photo: Boeing

The route in question

Kenya Airways is one of two carriers to fly directly between Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta International (NBO) and Guangzhou Baiyun International (CAN). The other is China Southern Airlines. Data from shows that the Kenyan flag carrier plied this route twice a week (Mondays and Fridays) until last week, when it reduced to a weekly (Friday) frequency.

Operating the Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner on this corridor, flight KQ882 to Guangzhou typically departs Nairobi at 17:45 local time. With a scheduled duration of 10 hours and 15 minutes, touchdown in China is scheduled to occur at 09:00 the following morning.

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Kenya Airways Map
The flight operates overnight in both directions. Image

However, previous iterations of this flight have departed at 16:30 local time, giving a duration of 11 hours and 30 minutes. This is in line with the current return working, KQ883, which is scheduled to take 11 hours and 45 minutes to return from Guangzhou (22:15) to Nairobi (05:00 the next morning). So why is the outbound leg now so much faster?

Why has Kenya Airways come under fire?

According to The East African, the expedited flight time between Nairobi and Guangzhou is a result of cost-cutting measures at Kenya Airways. In order to save money when it comes to hotel accommodation and personal, allowances, the airline has reduced the number of pilots working such flights from four to two. However, this didn’t fit with the old schedule.

Kenya Airways B787
The new schedule is more than an hour quicker, but at what cost? Photo: Getty Images.

Indeed, the carrier’s Operations Director, Paul Njoroge, explains that “the agreement between [Kenya Airways] and the pilots union allows for flights up to a maximum of 10 hours and 30 minutes flight time with one captain and one first officer.” While the new schedule doesn’t violate this, it has raised concerns at the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA).

The union’s Secretary-General, Murithi Nyagah, alleges that the new timings force crews to cruise the 787 at a Cost Index (CI) of 300. According to Skybrary, CI represents “the ratio of fuel costs to all other costs” on a given flight. Such a high CI represents fast cruising with minimal emphasis on fuel saving, and the union claims that the figure is actually illegal.

Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner
Kenya Airways has nine 787-8s in its fleet. These are its youngest aircraft. Photo: Getty Images

Cutting costs could lead to safety issues

KALPA adds that flying in this manner puts the lives of passengers and crew at risk. The smaller crew sizes are also of concern to the union. Indeed, its member pilots have argued that having just two pilots onboard will cause greater fatigue. This is due to the lack of rest opportunities that are otherwise present when a second pair of pilots can take over.

Writing in a letter to Kenya Airways CEO, KALPA Secretary-General Murithi Nyagah argued that the Ops Director’s approach to these flights “disregards safety as the principal guidance, but rather [chooses] to prioritize commercial interest as the basis of his decisions.” It will be interesting to see how the national airline responds to this dispute. Simple Flying has reached out to Kenya Airways for a statement and will update this article upon receiving it.

What do you make of this story? Have you ever heard of a similar dispute elsewhere? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.