In an internal communication seen by Reuters today, Kenya Airways are having to cancel dozens of flights due to a shortage of pilots. The loss-making East African airline is losing $50 million a year because it does not have enough pilots to fly its planes.
In the document seen by Reuters, it says that in the first two weeks of August the airlines canceled 68 flights, of which 74% were due to a shortage of pilots.
Kenya Airways has 435 pilots but needs 497
Right now Kenya Airways has 435 pilots on its books but needs to hire another 62, according to Bloomberg News.
In a letter to the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), Kenya Airways’ Director of Operations Paul Njoroge wrote a letter about how the KALPA is hurting the airline. In it, he blames complaints about pay, training and pilot’s nationality for the airline’s failure in recruiting new pilots, saying,
“This means the market share we have fought hard to win shall be eroded and winning this back will be a much harder task.”
The Kenyan Government is considering taking over the airline
Kenya Airways is the third largest airline in sub-Saharan Africa and cannot afford to keep canceling flights. This year, the airline almost tripled its first-half losses to the tune of $77.7 million.
Currently, Kenya Airways is 48.9% owned by the Kenyan Government. The Air France-KLM Group control 7.8%. Now after years of steep losses and fierce competition from state-owned Ethiopian Airlines, the Kenyan Government is considering a takeover.
To this aim, the Nairobi based airline is starting to move away from the Air France-KLM group to help strengthen the government’s hand. While talking about Kenya Airways wanting to hire 20 new pilots on two-year contracts the issue of nationality is a problem for the KALAP who oppose hiring foreigners.
In response to this, Njoroge admits Kenyan pilots are looking for work but says they do not have the qualifications to fly Kenyan Airways jets.
The big issue is about money
KALPA wants Kenyan Airways to boost productivity-based pay, despite the airline having already agreed to a new deal when they reorganized back in 2017.
While not considering it an increase in pilots salaries, the union claims the last time its members received a pay increase was eight years ago. On top of the pay dispute, pilots claim they are owed 40,000 days of annual leave.
Of all the pilots at Kenya Airways, 44 are currently undergoing training and will receive promotions, as was stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. This now means that 10% of the airline’s pilots will be missing for between six months to two years as they undergo additional training.
“This system is ineffective and archaic, and it contributes to the current shortage,” Njoroge said according to Bloomberg. “The airline needs 106 pilots to plug the hole left by those in training.”