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Middle East airlines now raid Kenya Airways for pilots

A KQ aeroplane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE
A KQ aeroplane at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. PHOTO | FILE 

More than 60 pilots quit national carrier Kenya Airways for greener pastures in rival Middle East airlines in the past year, the company’s management said.

An undisclosed number of engineers have also left for better jobs as the Kenyan carrier struggles to dig itself out of a loss-making pit.

Kenya Airways – popularly known as KQ - had 523 pilots in March 2015 but that number dropped to 489 pilots in 2016, representing loss of about 30 pilots. Others have left in the current financial year.

Mbuvi Ngunze, the Kenya Airways chief executive, said the number of pilots now stands at 460 and the number of engineers at 600.

He blamed the attrition to poaching of skilled staff by Middle East airlines, which are offering lucrative perks and salaries to the KQ’s highly trained specialists.

“It is true that there has been some increase in the numbers of engineers who have left KQ recently. We must bear in mind that the Middle East is looking for talent from all over the world because of the rapid growth. But it should be remembered that we had been training significantly as part of our growth so we have certain elements of back fill,” said Mr Ngunze during the airline’s 40th annual general meeting (AGM) held in Nairobi.

He played down impact of the human capital haemorrhage on the airline’s performance, insisting it has laid out contingency mitigation measures to fill any emerging gaps.

“We are looking to improve our own productivity, but also looking at our own initiatives in terms of how we retain people. We are not at a point where we are imbalanced but it represents a specific risk from a skills set point of view,” he said.

KQ’s broader turnaround plan includes staff retrenchment. Pilots and cabin crew have been among those earmarked for redundancy.

The airline’s overall staff count dropped to 3,870 in the year ended March from 4,002 a year earlier, with further retrenchments having commenced from July.

Kenya Airways made a record net loss of Sh26.2 billion in the year ended March, widening the Sh25.7 billion net loss it made a year earlier.

During the AGM, shareholders pressed the KQ management on its turnaround plan, which focuses on revenue growth, cutting costs and restructuring its capital base through initiatives such as asset sales, debt renegotiation and possible capital-raising from shareholders.

Top management led by Mr Ngunze and company chairman Dennis Awori said the turnaround plan had begun to bear fruits.

“We are beginning to see the first signs of improvements under Project Pride,” said Mr Ngunze of the strategy that outlines plans to return the airline to profitability.

Meanwhile, Mr Ngunse said the airline is in talks with unnamed investors who are interested in acquiring an undisclosed stake in the carrier.

“We are talking to three or four parties and that is not an exclusive group. We are, however, not at the point of shareholding,” he said.

Mr Ngunze played down recent incidents including a tyre burst involving the airline’s aircraft, saying safety is the airline’s number one priority.

“In Kenya like in other places you have an incident, you will have a bird strike which will impact on the aircraft, you will have sometimes an engine that might not start when you are taking off, tyre bursts do happen. The important thing is that nobody was injured and we managed to land safely,” he said.

During the AGM, shareholders voted in new directors, including former Safaricom boss Michael Joseph.

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