Pilots want aviation expert on KQ board in recovery plan

Says national carrier and other locally owned airlines need competitive advantage.

In Summary

•Pilots have pointed out lack of passion in the leadership  as one of the major challenges at the carrier.

•Poor aircraft choice on certain routes has also led to low passenger demand, baggage delays and a general loss of revenue, according to KALPA.

Kenya Airways planes at JKIA.
Kenya Airways planes at JKIA.
Image: Douglas Okiddy

Kenya Airways' board should comprise of aviation experts and individuals from key economic sectors as part of the  airline's turnaround strategy, pilots say.

In a memorandum, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) says the board should comprise of, but not limited to a nominee of the association with a minimum of 10 years international flying experience and rated on the Boeing 787 or 777.

It should also have an aviation maintenance science expert, licensed aircraft engineer with Boeing training and rating in the B787, and an aircraft acquisition, lease and financing expert.

Te memorandum titled titled 'KALPA's National Carrier Revival Plan', further proposes that horticulture, floriculture, and meat and livestock exporters should also be offered a seat on the board, as they are key players in cargo business.

The board should further have an air cargo management expert., a nominee from hotel and restaurants association of tourism and hotel sectors, airport operations expert or KAA representative and an aviation auditor.

The current board composition comprises individuals from the private sector, military and government who are not necessarily aviation experts.

“KQ’s mission statement should align with Kenya’s aspirations and the key economic drivers such as leisure and business tourism, agricultural exports and regional integration,” KALPA led by general secretary, Captain Muriithi Nyagah, says in the document.

The association proposes that a new set of departmental heads as well as the CEO should be hired in a competitive, transparent and fair process with competent and qualified Kenyans being given priority consideration. 

This comes as KQ management works on a turn-around plan with changes expected to come with the National Management Aviation Bill 2020 currently in Parliament.

The Bill will lead to a major shake-up in the aviation industry when it becomes law with the President chairing a powerful National Civil Aviation Council which is part of the proposals to make KQ a parastatal.

Cabinet Secretaries for Transport, Interior, National Treasury as well as the Attorney General, and Kenya Airforce Commander are the proposed members of the council, which will create policies relating to the aviation sector and also assess the country’s actual and potential civil aviation capabilities.

While the nationalisation is being waited upon, KQ management has changed the lease terms on its aircraft fleet opting for hourly rates in place of fixed costs, CEO Allan Kilavuka has confirmed.

It expects to save $45 million (Sh4.9 billion) this year as the airline seeks to cut expenses involved in fleet management, as the loss-making carrier continues to struggle with low passenger numbers in the wake of Covid-19.

“We have been successful on fleetside because we have been able to move towards pay by the hour for all our lessors for 2021,” Kilavuka said.

According to chairman Michael Joseph,  the outlook still looks bleak and the airline will be seeking a "right-sized" network to match the prevailing demand.

The Covid-19 global outbreak in 2020 was beyond anyone’s prediction and its impact on the industry is expected to continue affecting air travel demand for the next two to three years,” said Joseph.

The African Airlines Association  yesterday noted that connectivity at Nairobi JKIA in June declined, " mainly due to schedule adjustments and frequency reduction by national carrier, KQ."

KQ which reported the worse loss (net) of Sh36.2 for the financial year ended December 2020 , has saved $3.1 million (Sh334.6 million) after terminating a leasing agreement of two Boeing 737-700s.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) however still puts KQ's costs higher compared to industry standards.

According to a report by IATA, IT and softwares and legal charges are five per cent above industry average, flight equipment maintenance and overhaul (three per cent higher), aircraft fuel and oil (three per cent), ticketing, sales and promotion (three per cent), flight equipment rentals (three per cent) while other operating expenses and flight equipment insurance are above by one per cent.

Pilots have pointed out lack of passion in the leadership and competent board as one of the major challenges at the carrier.

Poor aircraft choice on certain routes has also led to low passenger demand, baggage delays and a general loss of revenue, according to KALPA.

“Inefficient routing of aircraft based on impulse decisions rather than actual market data and irrational decisions that are intentionally designed to frustrate critical staff, which have led to a high rate of attrition, are things that need to be addressed,” Nyagah said.

KQ has lost at least 120 pilots in the last five years mainly to Middle East carriers.

This is blamed on poor industrial and HR relations and search of greener pastures.

Meanwhile, KALPA has called for favorable aviation laws to protect the national carrier from sinking.

“The National Aviation Management bill 2020 should be tailored in such a way that it is advantageous to KQ and other locally owned airlines. The Bill should focus on the aviation sector and affiliated industries such as tourism and horticulture to create a seamless network for consumers,” said Nyagah.