Sunday, October 28, 2012

Kenya Airways Renews Search for Expatriate Pilots

Kenya Airways has begun the search for expatriate pilots to support its expansion amid tough conditions from the fliers’ union opposed to the plan.

The national carrier said that lack of experienced pilots, especially for long-haul trips, had forced it to look for foreigners to support its expansion plan, which will see it grow its fleet from 34 to 62 aeroplanes by 2016 and require an estimated 60 expatriate pilots.

But the Kenya Airlines Pilots Association (Kalpa) said they had agreed with KQ to hire a maximum of 13 pilots and warned of industrial action should the national carrier fail to stick to the deal.

“It is our hope that they respect the agreement even though we have already heard rumours that they intend to hire more than the agreed upon number,” said Kalpa secretary-general Ronald Karauri. “If they fail to do this we will surely end up in the Labour ministry’s office again.”

KQ maintains that it does not have enough captains — pilots who have flown for a minimum of 4,000 hours in specific planes like Boeing and Embraer — prompting it to widen its search beyond Kenya.

“As part of our ambitious growth plan, we seek to employ direct entry pilots… successful expatriates will be employed on a three-year renewable contract,” said Kenya Airways in a notice.

This means that the airline will turn to the talent base of international carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airways since its local rivals, Fly540 and Jetlink, operate smaller planes.

Increased demand for pilots globally has seen their compensation nearly double over the past three years, industry analysts and executives say, putting pressure on margins as airlines spend millions of shillings yearly on training and retaining them.

A Wall Street Journal report in March indicated that captains earn an annual average salaryof $165,278 (Sh13.7 million or Sh1.1 million per month).
The high cost of training pilots has discouraged most people from taking the course.

Kenya Airways, for example, spends about Sh8.5 million to train a pilot.

Mr Karauri said that lack of certification by the Kenya Civil Aviation (KCA) had denied 65 Kenyan pilots, who have experience in flying bigger jets like Boeing, an opportunity to be employed by KQ.

“By April next year, we are sure that many of our pilots will have both the experience andlicences and KQ will not be justified in hiring experts at the expense of locals,” he said.

Over the past two years, KQ’s management seems to have been lurching from one labour crisis to the next.

Currently, the carrier is locked in a legal battle with its workers’ union after the carrier shed 578 jobs last month in a bid to cut its wage bill that has doubled from Sh6 billion in 2007 to Sh13.4 billion.

The battle has sucked in Parliament, which has launched a probe on whether KQ followed the right channels in cutting the jobs.

In July, the pilots’ association warned that it would call for a strike over the expatriates’ mater and last early this month the fliers went on a go-slow that caused flight delays and cancellations over three days.

The airline’s profit dropped 51 per cent to Sh1.7 billion in the year to March as its costs led by labour and fuel expenses rose faster than revenues and its worst performing counter at the Nairobi bourse over the past year.

KQ’s share price has fallen by 45 per cent in the past year to the current price of Sh12.50.

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