KQ in pilot dilemma after suspension of foreigners

No recruitment of foreign pilots is done until a ruling is given on November 29.

In Summary

• Kenya Airways has been seeking to hire 20 foreign pilots on a two-year contract to address pilots' shortage at the airline. 

• Kenya Airline Pilots Association has accused the airline’s management of favouring expatriates while locking out “qualified” local pilots from jobs.

Kenya Airways could be forced to hire local pilots after the suspension on recruitment of foreign pilots by the Employment and Labour Relations Court.

In the latest twist of events, a court order dated November 14, seen by the Star has stopped the process which could see the carrier contract 20 foreign pilots.

 “This matter coming up for hearing of the claimant’s application dated October 31, 2019 and respondent’s application dated November 4, 2019 and upon hearing counsel for the claimant and counsel for the respondent; it is hereby ordered that in the meantime, status quo to remain; that is no recruitment of foreign pilots,” the order by the Employment and Labour Relations Court reads in part.

“That the court will deliver ruling on November 29, 2019,” the Deputy Registrar ordered.

Any party whosoever served and disobeys the court order will be in contempt of court and is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.

This now throws a fresh spin on the loss-making national carrier’s row with the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), which has accused the airline’s management of favouring expatriates during hiring.

Last Tuesday, KALPA said the airline’s management is locking out “qualified” local pilots in favour of foreigners, a move that is breaching provisions in the current Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

KQ, as it is known by its international code, had commenced interviewing pilots as it seeks to address the biting shortage at the airline, which has in recent times been faced with numerous cancellations and rescheduling of flights.

The airline has been seeking to contract 20 expatriates to fly its Boeing 737 aircrafts, a move objected by local pilots.

“KALPA raises a red flag in the manner at which Kenya Airways management is overlooking Kenyan workers in preference to foreigners. We have noted with concern a worrying trend in the airline where foreigners are being hired for jobs that can be done by Kenyans qualified for the same,” General Secretary Captain  Murithi Nyagah said.

Kenya Airways is currently grappling with a shortage of more than 150 pilots. It requires about 600 pilots to operate optimally, according to the association, which is also at loggerheads with the management over the current CBA.

KQ has 430 pilots flying its 36 aircrafts to 55 destinations daily. The pilots shortage has been blamed for frequent delays and cancellations of flights even as the airline remains in losses after reporting a Sh8.56 billion half-year net loss for the period ended June 30.

This was a dip from Sh4.03 billion reported in a similar period last year.

While KALPA wanted KQ to hire pilots for its wider but smaller Embraer planes, management opted to hire expatriate pilots on contract for its Boeing 787 aircrafts, something local pilots say will lock them from promotion and growth in their aviation careers.

The interim order now allows KQ to hire 20 local pilots (non-union members) on contract to guarantee the airline’s flight schedule completion over the next two years.

Last Thursday, lawyer Peter Ondati (for KQ)  told Justice Onesmus Makau that the CBA between Kenya Airways and Kalpa gives KQ discretion to engage pilots up to two years fixed term contracts “to facilitate route expansion, training of current pilots and reduction of pilots’ accumulated leave.”

“Whereas KQ faces a shortage of 62 pilots, there are 44 pilots belonging to the airline that are currently undergoing training taking the deficit up to 106,” Ondati noted.

Currently, KQ has three fleets- Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing 737 and Embraer. The Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the senior-most fleet while the Embraer is the junior-most.