The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority has tripled salaries for pilots and aircraft engineers to stem the poaching of its staff by private airlines in an effort to boost the country’s air safety record.
The authority has been losing staff to private carriers racing to employ more pilots and engineers to meet their expansion plans amid a shortage of this critical staff, which has sparked a rally in salaries.
Now, the authority has sought exemption from Treasury to break its pay scale and place pilots in the private sector on retainer for short-term contracts to strengthen its regulatory capacity in a market experiencing a boom.
This has seen KCAA raises pilots salaries three- fold to between Sh200, 000 and Sh500,000 per month depending on experience from a range of Sh120,000 and Sh170, 000.
It is in the process of tapping 40 more pilots and engineers from the private sector for short-term assignments, says the Transport ministry.
“We want to get some experts and put them on retainer and we can then call on them to inspect aircraft from other airlines.
They will be supplementing the KCAA team during the inspections,” said Mr Mutia Mwandikwa, the authority’s spokesperson.
“We have restructured our pay to see if we can also compete with other airports and airlines,” he added.
The authority has been facing a shortage of inspectors, especially in flight operations and airworthiness, who are normally pilots and aircraft engineers, putting the country’s air safety records at risk.
This has been worsened by increased demand for this segment of staff by private airlines both within and outside Kenya’s boarders on better pay.
“We have about 37 professionals who have left and who have not been replaced because of this competition,” Mr Simon Ogari, an assistant minister in the Transport ministry told Parliament recently.
“The shortage is because of lack of these people worldwide.
So, we are trying to add more funds to the KCAA, train as much as possible and hire from airlines like other countries are doing.”
Already, KCAA is on course to increase charges including annual inspection fee, safety charge on tickets and pilots’ licence fee by between 100 and 400 per cent to boost its revenues and reduce its reliance on the government.
It runs on a budget of about Sh360 million against collections of Sh125 million, and seeks to build a war chest to take on private operators in the talent market.
The authority’s increased activity in the labour market looks set to spur the ongoing battle for pilots and engineers that has gripped Kenya’s airline business, and players reckon that the talent war will deepen as new entrants enter the market and existing carriers expand their operations.
“Our greatest challenge is getting the pilots to fly these planes and we expect the need for these skills to get acute in coming years,” said Mr Titus Naikuni, the chief executive of Kenya Airways on August 30 when the national carrier signed a purchase deal for 10 new jets from Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer.
KQ plans to double its fleet size in the next five years to 62 planes in what is estimated to increase its demand for pilots by at least 300 by 2016. Presently it has 377 pilots.
“You cannot have an experienced pilot in less than five years and this raises the possibility of Kenya Airways hiring experienced pilots and retraining them to fly these new jets,” Mr Nixon Ooko, the operations manager at Fly540, told the Business Daily in an earlier interview.
It remains to be seen how the private operators will react to KCAA’s plan, though carriers such as KQ and Emirates pay their experienced pilots more than Sh500,000 per month.
The compensation for pilots has nearly doubled over the past three years, industry analysts and executives say, putting pressure on margins as airlines spend millions of shillings yearly on training.