Kenya Airways Looking To Return Some Leased Aircraft Early

Due to the drop in passenger numbers, Kenya Airways (KQ) has decided to send back some of its planes earlier than its stipulated return date. At the same time, the East African carrier is in the process of transforming some of its Boeing 787s into freighters.

Kenya Airways Returning Leased Planes
KQ is planning to return planes early to reduce money spent on plane maintenance. Photo: Getty Images

The airline has resumed flying domestically and internationally for over a month now. Unfortunately, passenger numbers are nothing like it was pre-pandemic.

According to Business Daily Africa, KQ is filling 37% of the airline’s seat capacity on average.

As such, Kenya Airways has already started discussing with leasing firms for the early return of some aircraft. This is to downsize its current fleet and reduce costs in terms of maintenance and operations for the planes. 

Reducing its fleet

KQ’s decision to reduce its number of planes comes as the airline acknowledges a sharp decrease in passenger demand even as flights resume. Once flights restarted in August, the carrier was still operating to only 30 destinations as compared to its usual 56.

According to Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka in Business Daily Africa,

“There are fewer destinations and fewer frequencies at the moment and we need to respond to that as these destinations will require us to fly smaller fleets.”

Thus, the airline is opting for a leaner fleet, a move that will save costs for the airline as well.

At the moment, there is no news on which aircraft KQ hopes to return, but the airline is set on converting a couple of its Dreamliners to freighters. The airline has almost 40 planes in its fleet currently according to, and nine of them are Dreamliners.

Increasing cargo flights

Allan Kilavuka stated that removing seats off of Boeing 787s would allow the carrier to use these planes for cargo flights. These flights include long-haul services between Africa and other continents. He said,

“We are currently in negotiations with leasers so that we can return some of their aircraft early and in some cases to convert some into cargo aircraft by removing seats.”

Kenya Airways flight
Kenya Airways is changing some Boeing 787s into cargo planes. Photo: Getty Images

The airline has been converting its planes since the early months of the pandemic. In April, Simple Flying reported that KQ transported over 40 tons of fresh fruit, vegetables, and horticulture products to London, in a converted Boeing 787 Dreamliner. In turn, it brought back pharmaceuticals, mining equipment, and other courier items.

As of August 2nd, KQ had flown more than 10,000 tons of cargo. With more aircraft taking on a new life as freighters, the airline will undoubtedly be able to transport more cargo.

Trend News Agency reported that KQ is increasing its weekly cargo flights to China. Starting next month, the airline will be sending cargo to China twice a week.

Furthermore, Cargo Commercial Manager Peter Musola hinted that KQ might be seeking more freighters. Specifically, Musola said the airline wants to acquire three widebody freighters in 2021 to increase cargo revenues.

Downsizing now for a better future

In an official press statement dated August 28th, KQ’s revenue reduced by 48% for the six months ended July 2020. There was also a 55.5% decrease in passenger numbers compared to the same period last year. This half-year loss is larger than the airline’s annual losses for the last three years.

Kenya Airways 777
The African airline is complete cost-cutting exercises by September 30th. Photo: Getty Images

Allan Kilavuka believes that to ensure the durability of the airline, cost-cutting decisions need to happen quickly. According to Kilavuka,

“We need to make the right decisions today for the sustainability of the business tomorrow, hence the decision to shrink now in order to grow in future and emerge on the other side of the crisis a leaner, more efficient airline.”

As such, the airline is undergoing an organization-wide rightsizing. This includes reducing fleet and staff. All decisions will be carried out by the end of this month.

What do you make of KQ downsizing its fleet? Do you think it’s a good idea to convert passenger planes to freighters? Let us know in the comments.