Pilots oppose KQ’s plan to hire expats
Posted Sunday, June 24 2012 at 16:22
New: KQ BOARD approves purchase of 20 new airplanes, including 9 dreamliners through Afreximbank.Ten planes to arrive end of 2012, rest during 2014. See press release
Kenya Airways’ plan to hire at least 60 expatriate pilots to support its expansion has run into fresh headwinds after an industry association told Parliament that the national carrier was victimising local pilots.
The national carrier says 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.
But the Kenya Airlines Pilots Association (KALPA) said that KQ is seeking foreign pilots due to stringent terms agreed with the association that limit a day’s work to 12 hours.
“One of the reasons KQ is not employing local pilots is the duty period in our CBA. We have restricted the period to 12 hours while most expatriate pilots are allowed to work for 15 hours,” Ronald Karauri, the secretary-general of KALPA told the parliamentary committee on Transport, Public Works and Housing last week.
He said Kenya has enough pilots to support KQ’s expansion and that the national carrier was deliberate to avoid hiring them. The increase in foreigners is aimed at weakening the union’s clout, he claimed.
KQ maintains that it does not have enough captains — pilots that have flown for a minimum of 4,000 hours in specific planes like Boeing and Embraer — prompting it to widen its search beyond Kenya. “We may have enough pilots but we don’t have enough of those with relevant experience to be captains,” said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of the airline in interview with the Business Daily before the union’s claims.
KQ plans a bigger fleet in four years, which will allow it to connect the bulk of Africa’s travellers to the rest of the world through its Nairobi hub.
Today, it will ink a financing agreement that will lead to the purchase of 20 aircraft from September.
Aviation players say KQ will need to hire at least 200 more pilots from its current 405 over the next five years, especially captains to fly the long-haul Boeing and the short-distance Embraer.
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. “A large number of local pilots seeking employment at the airline have been turned down,” Captain Karauri told the MPs as he produced a list of 15 captains that he says have been denied employment by KQ in the past year.
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.
The entry level for a commercial pilot is between $2,000 (Sh180, 000) and $3,000 (Sh270,000) depending on plane type, while that of a captain is between $4,000 (Sh360, 000) and $6,000 (Sh540,000).
A Wall Street Journal report in March indicated that captains earn an annual average salary of $165, 278 (Sh13.7 million or Sh1.1 million per month) — a pointer that KQ’s wage bill will emerge as one of the key drivers to its future profits.
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.