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Kenya Airways' pilot drama

23 April 2013, 14:44 Omondi Oloo

Nairobi - National carrier, Kenya Airways (KQ) has been dragged into a potentially explosive labour dispute with the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) over its preference for foreign pilots ahead of locally trained airmen.

The airline which has been on a massive recruitment drive for pilots over the past few years, is expected to have a total 13 expatriate pilots to fly its 42 planes by mid this year.

On Monday, the airline moved quickly to avert a standoff with pilots affiliated to Kalpa, who say by hiring foreign staff, the airline is undermining local talent.

But the airline has defended the move saying there is a shortage of qualified local pilots, a point which Kalpa has refuted and instead produced a list of pilots it said were qualified but remained unemployed.

The impasse threatens to scuttle Kenya Airways plans to spend US$3.7 billion over the next five years on new aircraft and routes.

Kenya’s labour ministry has been asked to mediate in the labour dispute and establish a programme which, according to Kalpa, would build the capacity of local pilots to fill the vacant posts for 13 captains.

“For expatriates to take a job in Kenya, it has to be shown that no local can do the same job. Even then, there must be a plan to ensure that the expatriate can be replaced,” Ronald Karauri, Kalpa’s secretary-general said in Nairobi.

The airline said last week that hiring foreign pilots would not lock out local pilots. "They are not going to take the place of Kenyan pilots....
We are growing the number of planes and expanding our routes."

 “There is still so much space for everyone,” it said, yesterday. The airline currently has 466 pilots — out of a required 530 — flying its fleet of 42 planes.

The current shortfall has seen existing pilots work extra hours, which is estimated to cost KQ KES 40 million (convert to USD) a month in overtime pay.

The carrier added that though it would be hiring expatriate captains, there is a pool of young pilots it is already developing through its trainee pilot programme.

KQ has in the past said many of the pilots whose names were forwarded to it by Kalpa failed their competency tests.

Last year, the airline was at the centre of a legal storm when the Kenyan Industrial Court ordered it to reinstate hundreds of workers it had retrenched in an attempt to reduce its wage bill.

The sackings were part of what the airline referred to as restructuring and some positions were declared redundant.

When the Kenyan Parliament summoned top airline officials led by CEO Titus Naikuni and board chairman Evanson Mwanini over the matter, they said the company had opted to outsource labour in some non-core departments to cut costs.

- CAJ News



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