STAND-OFF

Blame game as KQ, pilots accuse each other over woes

Pilot shortage, high salaries play out in KQ, captains tussle

In Summary

• KQ management has blamed crew shortage for delays and cancellation of flights which has affected its revenues, that are further dented by high operational costs including  pilots salaries.

• Pilots association has accused management of expanding network without planning which has left them overworked. 

Kenya Airways flight attendants serve passengers aboard/File
Kenya Airways flight attendants serve passengers aboard/File

Kenya Airways management and its pilots have opened a fresh war on the airline's operations with each party blaming the other for continued losses.

Pilots yesterday blamed poor management at the airline for losses that have piled to  Sh8.56 billion net for the for half-year of 2019.

The loss is riven by high operational costs , including recurrent and operational expenditures, which have continued to drag the national carrier into the red for five consecutive years.

 
 

Addressing a media conference in Nairobi, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) said the airline had failed to invest in more pilots despite expanding its network,  leading to frequent flight cancellations and subsequently hotel costs and compensation to delayed passengers.

This, they said  has affected the airline's cash flow, with the month of August alone  incurring a bill of Sh192 million from cancellations. 

In the first two weeks of August 2019, KQ  had 91 flight cancellations, out of which 68 were cancelled due to crew constraints. This constitutes 74 per cent of total cancellations in that period.

About 4,234 passengers were disrupted during the period with the Boeing 737 and Embraer fleets being the most affected.

KALPA said the airline has a biting pilot shortage, with 414 pilots having to operate a schedule that requires approximately 600 pilots.

“The shortage is due to low rate of recruitment and pilot attrition. It is no secret that Kenya Airways has one of the lowest rates of pilot recruitment in the world,” association general secretary Nyagah Muriithi said.

He said this must be addressed to reduce staff fatigue.

 

KALPA's sentiments comes bare a week after outgoing CEO Sebastian Mikosz criticised the current Collective Bargaining Agreement which allows pilots to call in sick a few hours before take-off.

It also allows them to be absent for up to 48 hours without providing any medical evidence.

“Crew shortages are projected to negatively impact the company to the tune of $50 million annually,” Mikosz said in an internal memo on Monday (September 9), with the figures translating to about Sh5.2 billion.

In the year to June, KQ's costs jumped 15.4 per cent to Sh61.4 billion from Sh53.2 billion last year, denting its margins.

Pilots salaries has played out as among the biggest costs by the airline where its crew is said to earn way above global averages.

A parliamentary report seen by the Star notes that KQ’s wide body aircraft captains takes home Sh1.8 million monthly compared to Sh1.5 million earned by their peers at Emirates, Qatar Airways, Middle East Airlines, Kuwait Airways among others.

“I earn slightly above a Captain. They are among the best paid in the world,” Mikosz told the Star in an interview last Thursday.

Kalpa however said KQ would still post losses even if its members were not paid.

“Should all pilots have rendered their services for free since the year began, Kenya Airways would still have declared a significant loss! So where lies the problem?" posed Murithi.

He said: Why the sudden attacks on the CBA? Isn’t this the same CBA that was in existence when Kenya Airways declared profits for years on end?"

He accused management of “looking for a scapegoat in pilots for their financial mismanagement”, thus “a deliberate attempt to divert attention from the real problems facing the airline.”

KALPA chairman Captain Njoroge Murimi  said he would take a pay cut if it would help KQ recover, but insisted the management must be transparent in its decision making and hire more pilots.

Management plans to recruit 20 contract pilots on the Boeing 737 fleet to help address the shortage.

“These pilots will be recruited on a two-year contract. This will enable us to run our operations more efficiently and plan for our network growth,” Mikosz said on Monday.

Meanwhile, pilots have called for full involvement in the nationalisation process of the airline.