TECHNICAL BLUNDER?

Firing engineers comes back to haunt KQ

Middle East carriers have been raiding local aviation talent

In Summary

• In November 2017, KQ fired 140 after a go-slow demanding a pay rise. Airline has lost more than 200 engineers in the last two to three years.

• Pilots now say “there is a problem” at JKIA where a shortage of engineers has forced KQ to outsource costly services.

Kenya Airways KQ Embraer E190 5Y-KYT
Kenya Airways KQ Embraer E190 5Y-KYT

The sacking of about 140 technical staff at Kenya Airways seems to have come back to haunt the carrier, as it struggles to service its aircrafts at its Nairobi Hub.

This is amid a network expansion plan in the last 11 months that has stretched its workforce, leading to numerous cancellations and delays.

Pilots at the national carrier have now revealed they have had to have aircrafts serviced outside the country for lack of enough technical staff at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

“There is a problem there because Kenya Airways fired some engineers a while back. They wanted to talk to the MD (managing director) who was unwilling to talk to them and instead he fired them,” Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) General Secretary Nyagah Muriithi responded to an inquiry by the Star in Nairobi.

“There is a shortage of engineers in KQ (as it is known by its international code). That shortage is what is causing KQ to go hire major maintenance services out of the country,” Muriithi noted.

This is in the wake of rising operational costs which grew 15.6 per cent in the first half of the year, closing at Sh61.5 billion compared to Sh53.2 billion similar period last year, amid a Sh8.56 net loss.

The employees were sacked after they went into a go-slow demanding a pay rise.

During the sacking, CEO Sebastian Mikosz said the management would not entertain actions that sabotage the recovery of the airline, which has suffered year-on-year losses.

The sacking came barely a year after the loss-making carrier lost 20 of its most experienced aeronautical engineers to Qatar Airways, in April 2016. The airline had earlier lost 80 engineers to Middle Eastern carriers.

The engineers were poached by the Qataris after one of them repaired a malfunctioning aircraft in a record two hours when it would have taken the internal engineer five hours plus travel time, sources told the Star.

Middle East airlines such as Qatar, Etihad and Emirates have from time to time raided local aviation talent pool including pilots, engineers and business managers to boost their regional presence.

On Tuesday, KALPA reported more than 140 pilots have left KQ in the last three years, a gap that is yet to be filled leading to the numerous cancelations on an over stretched crew.

“This has been attributed to a hostile working environment within the airline,’ KALPA chairman Njoroge Murimi said at a press briefing in Nairobi.

Countries KQ is said to outsource aircraft servicing include Jordan, UAE and some parts of Europe.

KQ management has however denied the allegations. Mikosz during an interview with the Star said, aircrafts, which have been undergoing service outside the country, were leased from a Middle East country that had prior servicing contracts.

“Aviation is a twenty-four hour operating industry, aircrafts can get checked at any point but most of our maintenance is at JKIA,” he told the Star.

KQ has ben hit by a number of technical hitches in recent times. One of the most recent and notable was in February this year when three of its aircraft were pulled out of service following two separate incidents.

One was a Boeing Dreamliner 787 en route to Johannesburg, which had to make an emergency landing in Dar es Salaam after it developed mechanical problems in mid-air.

Three days earlier, two of its Embraer planes had collided at the JKIA during a standard technical engine maintenance check at the hangar.

“The two aircraft sustained substantial damage and have been withdrawn from service for investigations,” the airline said in a statement after the incident.

The Star has established the airline, which plans to hire more pilots on contract, is also planning to revamp its technical department in the next financial year.

"There are plans to beef up the technical team but that is still under discussion," a board member told the Star yesterday.