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KQ set to hire 30 new pilots in deal with staff

National carrier Kenya Airways
National carrier Kenya Airways. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

National carrier Kenya Airways (KQ) will now hire 30 direct entry captains, both local and foreign, following a compromise deal aimed at reducing an acute shortage of pilots to handle its large fleet of Embraer 190 aircraft.

An agreement signed between KQ and the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) is expected to help the airline lower its deficit of 53 pilots for its current fleet of aircraft. The shortage of pilots has in the past affected the airline’s revenue and expansion.

The 30 recruits will comprise Kenyans on permanent terms and expatriates on two-year contracts.

The contract-term pilots are expected on board by June 30.

“The shortage of Embraer captains is somewhat creating a bottleneck and appears to be the main issue at hand. This is where we experience significant shortages due to the large fleet size and substantial frequencies and network in comparison to the Boeing fleets,” Kalpa secretary-gen eral Murithi Nyagah said.

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KQ currently operates a fleet of 15 Embraer aircraft with a maximum range of 2,935 kilometres—which is suitable for serving regional routes.

The airline has experienced long drawn pilot shortages over the last 15 years—a situation that 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.

Embraer fleet

Kalpa said the shortage of Embraer pilots had affected the promotion of existing pilots to other types of aircraft.

“The shortage of captains is now causing staggered movement of captains from the Embraer to the Boeing 737 due to the minimum number of captains needed to crew the Embraer fleet. This has in turn caused a ripple effect, slowing down movement from the Boeing 737 to Boeing 787, in that we are not able to achieve required numbers to replace those who have to move to the Boeing 787,” Mr Nyagah further said.

Following the deal, the association said it would withdraw a case earlier filed in court challenging plans by the airline to hire expatriate pilots to fly its Boeing 737 fleet.

In order to bridge the pilots deficit, the airline had announced plans to recruit 20 contract captains for the Boeing 737. The plans were opposed by Kalpa resulting in the court case.

“This position is in the process of being notified to the court as an out-of-court settlement. Emphasis will be to hire non-type rated Kenyan direct-entry captains and pilots or second officers to the Embraer fleet” the official said.

This would be supplemented by a minimal number of non-type rated expatriate captains for its Embraer fleet on two-year contract terms, after which they would be replaced by suitable Kenyans.

Past estimates have shown that the airline has been losing about Sh5.18 billion ($50 million) annually as a result of the pilots shortage. Kenya Airways has had to forego revenue to compensate passengers in the form of accommodation.

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