National carrier Kenya Airways has begun the process of recruiting pilots, as well as a Chief Pilot, as a strike by pilots enters its third day. At least 12,000 passengers have been affected by the strike, with almost all passenger and cargo flights cancelled.
Kenya Airways had warned that the strike would cost it Ksh300 million per day or Ksh2.1 billion per week. Despite maintaining that the strike is íllegal following the granting of a temporary injunction stopping it last week, the airline’s pleas to pilots to return to work have fallen on deaf ears. The airline has vowed to take disciplinary action against the striking workers.
Within the last three days, the airline has posted new vacancies on its LinkedIn page for the positions of Chief Pilot, Pilot – Captain and Pilot – First Officer. The airline is also recruiting a Legal Counsel and a Brand Executive – Sustainability.
It is instructive to note that responsibilities of the Chief Pilot include ‘discussing operational and personal problems with pilots to improve morale and efficiency’ and ‘representing the company in advisory capacity during contract negotiations with pilots’ union’.
It remains to be seen how quickly Kenya Airways could potentially recruit and onboard new pilots, particularly in the face of a global pilot shortage and considering its own financial struggles. KQ cut its loss in the first six months of 2022 by 14.5% to Ksh9.9 billion, compared to the Ksh11.5 billion loss it posted in the corresponding period last year.
With the post-Covid bounce back in the aviation sector, demand for pilots is projected to outstrip supply in most regions globally between 2022 and 2024 — and continue to worsen over the next ten years. Oliver Wyman projects global aviation to be short nearly 80,000 pilots by 2032.
The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) has maintained that pilots will withdraw their services until the management of Kenya Airways addresses their concerns. Importantly, they are demanding payment of deferred salaries and contributions to the provident fund, as well as the resignation of top management including CEO Allan Kilavuka and Chairman Michael Joseph among other ‘irreducible minimums’.
KQ acknowledges that it owes the pilots, but maintains it is impossible to meet their demands immediately due to the airline’s poor fiscal health, stating: “We are aware that KALPA has given notice of a strike, with the main grievance being the non-payment of contributions to the Provident funds. We recognize this as a genuine grievance but don’t believe its a justifiable strike reason, as no amount of strike action can produce more cash to pay both the deferred salaries and provident fund contributions simultaneously.”
The strike has turned into a nightmare not just for KQ, its staff and management, but also the State which has poured billions into the loss-making national carrier in recent bailouts. KQ, which last recorded a profit in 2012, has maintained that it is on track to break even in 2024 and be profitable thereafter.
Efforts by Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen and his Labour counterpart Florence Bore to have the strike called off by forming a committee to lead negotiations involving KQ and KALPA have failed to produce any meaningful results, as KALPA and KQ accuse each other of refusing to compromise.