Kenya Airways beats pre-Covid staff size with 598 new jobs

Allan Kilavuka, KQ CEO.

Kenya Airways chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka.  

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya Airways (KQ) hired 598 additional employees in the year ended December 2023, marking the second straight year of increasing its headcount and effectively restoring the jobs it had cut when Covid-19 pandemic grounded planes and forced it into retrenchment and hiring freeze.

The airline’s latest disclosures show the new hiring saw it close December 2023 with 4,828 employees, overtaking the 4,775 workers it had in 2019 before mid-February 2020 when Covid-19 pandemic disruptions triggered massive job cuts.

Last year's hiring marked the second straight year of recruiting, which when added to the 514 new workers it hired in 2022 brings to 1,112 the workers it has added in two years. The new hiring has come on the back of increased frequency of flights and more passenger numbers as normalcy returns across the world economies.

KQ had in 2020 —the peak of Covid-19 pandemic economic disruptions including lockdowns and international border closures— lost 954 workers through retrenchment and resignations, followed by another 105 in 2021.

Most of the hiring in the past two years have been under management and administration which has added 451 jobs to close 2023 at 1,438, being more than the 1,015 that KQ had at the end of 2019 just before the pandemic.

Over the past two years, KQ has also hired 264 workers for ground services, 225 for flight operations and 172 technical workers.

The airline’s total employee costs jumped by 39 percent to Sh17.56 billion last year, with the spending on wages and salaries alone rising by 24.6 percent to Sh14.1 billion from Sh11.3 billion, partly reflecting the increased headcount.

The hiring has come on the back of KQ increasing its capacity steadily following the resumption of global travel after Covid-19 disruptions receded. KQ has also resumed flights to destinations it had earlier abandoned and increased frequencies on others.

The airline for instance increased flights to Mauritius from four weekly to daily in January last year and to Johannesburg from 19 to 26 weekly in June of the same year.

Mid last year, KQ flights to New York increased from five times weekly to daily. Flights to Addis Ababa went up from four weekly to daily from March 2023, as the frequency trips to London rose from seven to 10 weekly from May last year.

It has also signed more code sharing agreements with other carriers, including Emirates, China Southern and Fly Dubai where they market and sell each other’s tickets.

The airline has been on a recovery path, even though it is still waiting for its first net profit in over a decade. The headwinds of high fuel prices and debts in an environment of a weak shilling against the dollar have headlined the challenges the airline has battled since coming out of the pandemic disruptions.

KQ managed to cut its net loss by 40.6 percent to Sh22.6 billion in the financial year ended December 2023 as revenue grew 52.8 percent to Sh178.4 billion. Part of the reason it posted a loss was a Sh24 billion foreign exchange loss as the shilling shed a quarter of its value against the dollar.

The airline posted an operating profit of Sh10.5 billion, the first in seven years which the management, led by the CEO Allan Kilavuka hopes to build on in the current financial year. Mr Kilavuka says he is keen to return the airline into a net profit zone.

The goal, if achieved, will introduce something that has not been synonymous with the airline’s books of accounts since 2012 when it closed with net earnings at Sh1.66 billion.

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