Big Story 10

Kenya Airways cancels flights due to pilot shortage

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya Airways has been forced to cancel dozens of flights due to a shortfall in the required pilot numbers, it said in internal communication seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: A Kenya Airways staff member is seen at the rear door of a Boeing Dreamliner 787-8 inside a hangar at their headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya June 27, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The loss-making carrier, which is 48.9% government-owned and 7.8% held by Air France-KLM, sank into steep losses in 2014, causing some of its engineers and pilots to seek greener pastures, especially among deep-pocketed Gulf carriers.

In the first two weeks of last month, the airline suffered 91 flight cancellations, of which 68 flights or 74% were due to pilot shortages, the document seen by Reuters showed.

Kenya Airways said it will be forced to cancel more flights in the weeks ahead due to the shortages.

“The market share we have fought hard to win shall be eroded and winning this back will be a much harder task due to diminished customer confidence,” said the airline’s management in a letter to its pilots union, KALPA.

Kenya Airways has 435 pilots, against a fleet requirement of 497.

It said it will immediately seek to recruit 20 new pilots for its Boeing 737 jets on two-year contracts, allowing existing pilots to take time off. Ten of the existing pilots will be promoted to the airline’s B787 fleet.

Frequent cancellations of the airline’s cargo freighter has also led to cargo customers opting out, the document seen by Reuters showed.

“The projected impact of the crew shortage is $50 million annually, which could have been avoided,” Kenya Airways said.

KALPA, the bulk of whose membership is drawn from Kenya Airways, blamed the carrier for not recruiting enough pilots on time.

“It is no secret that Kenya Airways has one of the lowest rates of pilot recruitment in the world,” Murithi Nyagah, the association’s secretary general, said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

The government plans to re-nationalize Kenya Airways, seeking to adopt a model successfully used by other nations in the region like Ethiopia, to rescue it from mounting debts and losses.

Last month it reported a first-half pretax loss of 8.56 billion Kenyan shillings ($83 million), more than double that seen in the same period of 2018.

The airline flies to 55 destinations around the world from its hub in Nairobi, 43 of which are in Africa. It carries over four million passengers annually.

Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Jan Harvey