Kenya Airways Plc said it will cut flights in the next few weeks because cancellations, resulting from a shortage of pilots, cost the carrier an estimated $50 million annually.
The airline has 435 pilots but requires 497, Director of Operations Paul Njoroge said in a letter to the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa), a copy of which Bloomberg has seen.
“This means the market share we have fought hard to win shall be eroded and winning this back will be a much harder task due to diminished customer confidence,” Njoroge said.
Africa’s third-largest airline can ill afford to reduce flights after nearly tripling its first-half losses to $77.7 million in the first half.
Years of continued losses and a shrinking market share has the government considering taking back ownership to fend off competition from state-owned carriers such as Ethiopian Airlines Group.
Kenya Airways notified the pilots’ lobby group it had began recruitment of 20 captains on two-year contracts, Njoroge said.
Kalpa opposes employment of foreigners, saying there are enough jobless pilots in the East African nation.
In response, the airline argues most of them are unskilled to fly its jets. Kenya Airways, which in the past lost many pilots to Middle Eastern carriers, pays a wide-body captain 1.8 million shillings per month. The airline says 46 percent of its payroll is for pilots, who make up 13 percent of the staff.
Of its 435 pilots, 44 are undergoing training before promotion, as required by a Collective Bargaining Agreement. This means 10 percent of its pilots are out of commission for 6-24 months as they can’t fly even those planes they are qualified to.
“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. Kenya Airways owes pilots a backlog of 40,000 annual leave days as many take on extra hours to avoid cancellations, Kalpa’s general-secretary, Murithi Nyagah, told reporters in the capital, Nairobi.
“The shortage is due to two aspects, namely — the low rate of recruitment and pilot attrition,” Nyagah said.