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KQ, pilots row over China’s Covid blood test

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A KQ Dreamliner aircraft. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) has informed Kenya Airways that its members who do not wish to be subjected to the 15-minute coronavirus blood test will withdraw from flying planes to China until further notice.
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has grounded much of the global aviation industry, but Kenya Airways has witnessed adequate travel on the China route.

Kenya Airways (KQ) pilots have rejected the mandatory extraction of blood samples for coronavirus test in Chinese airports in a row that looks set to trigger flight cancellations and delays to the Asian nation.

Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) has informed Kenya Airways that its members who do not wish to be subjected to the 15-minute coronavirus blood test will withdraw from flying planes to China until further notice.

The Covid-19 pandemic has grounded much of the global aviation industry, but Kenya Airways has witnessed adequate travel on the China route.

“Any Kalpa member who does not wish to be tested by the extraction of a blood sample will be forwarding their names to the chief pilot’s office, these pilots will not be restored for China operations until further notice,” Murithi Nyagah, Kalpa secretary-general said in a letter to Kenya Airways last week.

“Pilots who have forwarded their names and are on standby duty will also not be called out for CAN operations,” said the letter seen by the Business Daily.

The 15-minute coronavirus blood test is not being used in many countries, despite China diagnosing patients with it.

The test, which takes a blood droplet from a finger prick, allegedly shows the severity of coronavirus infection in a patient even if they don't show symptoms.

Results are displayed in a similar fashion to those of an at-home pregnancy test within minutes and could potentially save delays in diagnosis.

Currently, swab tests used take 24 to 48 hours to be read by a specialist in a lab. In that time, suspected patients could be spreading germs to other people, analysts say.

Kenya Airways operates non-stop flights on the Nairobi-Guangzhou route. This is key to growing the Africa route business as travellers from other countries on continent connect to China through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA).

In the year to December, Kenya Airways generated Sh72 billion or 56.6 percent of Sh127 billion total sales from Africa.

Europe brought in Sh27 billion while China accounted from Sh9.34 billion or 7.32 percent of the carrier’s sales.

But these shares have changed in the wake of Covid-19, which has suspended travel in many parts of Europe, making the China route critical to Kenya Airways.

The pilots lobby has threatened Kenya Airways with legal action if its forces pilots to serve the China routes.

"Should KQ management fail to adhere with [sic] the position indicated herein, Kalpa will not hesitate to institute legal action for human rights violation," said the lobby.

Kenya Airways expects its full-year 2020 revenues to drop by between Sh60 billion and Sh70 billion.

First-half pre-tax losses to June were Sh14.36 billion as Covid-19 suspended travel and slashed revenues. This compares to a Sh8.56 billion loss in similar period last year.

The airline said there were more challenges ahead, as air travel demand for the rest of 2020 is expected to be less than half of 2019’s levels.

Kenya Airways resumed domestic flights in mid-July after the government cleared local air travel and international flights were restarted on August 1.

The airline was struggling before the coronavirus outbreak, posting a 2019 loss of almost Sh13 billion.

The airline has already laid off staff and proposed reducing its network and offloading assets.

The Covid-19 pandemic has grounded much of the global aviation industry with African airlines expected to lose $6 billion in revenue this year.