Economy

Pilot graduates at four-year low on cash woes

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KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe said the sharp decline was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the country last year coupled with exorbitant training fees.
  • "The decline was caused by the Covid-19 and the training fees are also prohibitive," he told the Business Daily.
  • Aviation training institutions suspended operations for much of last year in compliance with health safety protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The number of freshly trained and licensed pilots in Kenya has dropped by a drastic 64 percent to a four-year low due to disruptions of Covid-19 and prohibitive teaching costs in a shaky economy.

Data by the sector regulator, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority(KCAA), shows that 167 pilots were trained and licensed in the financial year 2020/21, down from 456 the previous year and the lowest number since the 2017/18 fiscal year.

KCAA director-general Gilbert Kibe said the sharp decline was due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which hit the country last year coupled with exorbitant training fees.

"The decline was caused by the Covid-19 and the training fees are also prohibitive," he told the Business Daily.

Aviation training institutions suspended operations for much of last year in compliance with health safety protocols to curb the spread of coronavirus.

The economic disruptions of Covid-19 also meant that many could not afford the high pilot training fees.

For example, it costs Sh700,000 to obtain a basic Private Pilot Certificate, internationally referred to as the Private Pilot Licence (PPL).

The training for PPL lasts about three to six months and forms the foundation course to obtaining a Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL), which costs Sh1.8 million for six to 12 months of training.

To qualify for the highest level of pilot licence category known as the Airline Transport Pilot Licence (ATPL), a trainee requires 40 hours of Instrument Rating (IR) training, which costs Sh50,000 per hour or Sh2 million in total.

Those certified as airline transport pilots are authorised to act as pilots in command on scheduled air carriers' aircraft. One must hold an ATPL before he or she can be allowed to be in charge of a plane with nine or more passenger seats.

A prolonged disruption in pilot training may impact the operations of the local aviation industry, which is also under pressure from staff poaching by global carriers, especially those from the better-paying Middle East countries.

For instance, before the pandemic, national carrier Kenya Airways experienced long-drawn pilot shortages over the last 15 years — a situation, which was worsened by the exit of 140 pilots in the 2016-2017 window.

Although KQ attempted to hire expatriate pilots to bridge the deficit in its Embraer fleet in 2019, it did not achieve much because the hiring was restricted to type-rated captains.

Mr Kibe, however, downplayed the risks of pilot shortage due to the drop in the number of fresh trainees.

"We have more than enough pilots, but this will change when new growth in air transport will bring back jobs starting domestically next year and internationally in 2023," he said.

In 2012, KCAA said Kenya needed to train at least 2,000 pilots in five years to keep up with increasing activities in the industry. The country is yet to reach that target, with only 1,393 trained from 2014 to date.

Some of the pilots trained locally are most of the time forced to go to South Africa for further training because Kenya lacks sufficient resources to train them.

ICAO, with players in the African market, formed the Association of African Aviation Training Organisation (AATO) to help in the coordination of training by ensuring that pilots are trained through resource sharing.

This means that countries with enough resources and skills will train pilots from other states at subsidised costs as they send their pilots to other countries for training in additional skills.

According to the aviation industry, airlines globally will have to add 90,000 new aircraft to the current 62,000-strong commercial fleet by 2030.

It is projected that by 2026, 480,000 new technicians will be required to maintain these aircraft and over 350,000 pilots to fly them.