• In about 12 months alone, the airline has lost Sh5 billion ($50 million) due to flight cancellations and delays.
  • The airline currently has a shortage of 106 pilots that has led to cancellation or delay of some of its flights, exacerbating its troubles with frustrated customers.
  • Despite the airline troubles, Kenya Airways pilots are some of the best paid in the region compared to their counterparts in rival airlines.

Kenya’s national carrier, Kenya Airways, is being grounded to a halt by a biting shortage of pilots.

In about 12 months alone, the airline has lost Sh5 billion ($50 million) due to flight cancellations and delays. Kenya Airways has also had to forego revenue and compensate passengers in the form of accommodation.

A Kenya Airways Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 is seen inside a hangar at their headquarters in Nairobi.

This comes on the backdrop of Kenya Airways plans to cut down routes as it moves to improve efficiency.

“In response to the crew shortage, we have unfortunately had to shrink the network to ensure that we deliver on our brand promise,” Read a memo from the carrier’s head of operations, Paul Njoroge. “The projected impact of the crew shortage is $50 million (Sh5 billion), which could have been avoided had KAPLA (Kenya Airline Pilots Association) worked with management in 2018 to recruit pilots directly to B737 (Boeing)”. 

Kenya Airways linked 74% of the 91 flight cancellations in the first two weeks of August to crew disruptions, adding that it cargo division has been hit hard. The airline’s management has in the recent past attributed the cancellations to crews calling in sick ahead of flights.

KQ crews call in sick mostly over the weekend 

Kenya Airways pilot Captain Irene Koki Mutungi. (Forbes Africa)

According to the airline, whose 2019 half-year loss more than doubled to hit Sh8.56 billion ($85.6 million), crew disruptions deepen during weekends as well as peak time for travels.

“What we are pointing out is a trend of ad hoc sickness over the weekend that appears not to be genuine,” said Captain Njoroge.

The airline currently has a shortage of 106 pilots that has led to cancellation or delay of some of its flights, exacerbating its troubles with frustrated customers.

Kenya Airways pilots are some of the best paid in the region 

Kenya Airways captains attend a meeting as they participate in a pilots strike organised by Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA) at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport near Kenya's capital Nairobi, April 28, 2016.

Despite the airline troubles, Kenya Airways pilots are some of the best paid in the region compared to their counterparts in rival airlines. Senior KQ staff in the rank of captain earned an average monthly salary of Sh1.6 million ($160 000), double what pilots of Ethiopian Airlines earn per month.

The airline spends 40% of its payroll on pilots alone although they account for only 13% of all its workforce.

Some of Kenya Airways Captains at a pilots strike organised by KALPA at the Jomo Kenyatta International airport.

Going forward the airline is planning to hire 20 pilots on contract to bridge the sharp shortage.

In response to the memo from the management, Kalpa officials Wednesday said the union was not opposed to the hiring of the 20 pilots, but has expressed concerns over the likelihood of the jobs going to foreigners.

“We are not opposed to KQ hiring pilots but we just need to know where they are coming from, the qualifications and the returns, given that we have qualified Kenyans in KQ who qualify to be captains,” said Muriithi Nyagah, the secretary-general of the union.