Kenya Airways to recruit expatriate captains to ease shortage of pilots

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(eTN) – During the showcasing last week of Boeing’s B787 Dreamliner in Nairobi, questions were asked of Dr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of Kenya Airways (KQ), how the arrival of additional aircraft in 2012 and beyond – the airline is expecting 3 B777s and by all accounts some 10 more Embraer 190 aircraft over the next 12 to 24 months – would be managed in regard of human resources available, with specific reference to cockpit crew.

The airline has engaged in accelerated training of commercial pilots, both at their own in house, “Pride Academy,” at Embakasi headquarters and also through aviation schools in South Africa, to get sufficient pilot numbers on the payroll to actually fly those new aircraft.

Dr. Naikuni had to concede, though, that these efforts were not enough, particularly in regard of senior captains, to whom the young first officers, aka co-pilots, would then be attached. It was now becoming a certainty that expatriate captains would have to be recruited to fill those glaring gaps.

“We are in talks with the government and the unions to get permission and agreements in place to recruit expatriate pilots,” he said at the main arrival function at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. “The Pride of Africa” has until now relied on Kenyan and East African pilots, and the announcement that around 60 captains will need to be recruited in the coming years, though this comes not unexpected for aviation observers, has already raised issues with the pilots’ union besides requiring sanction by government vis-a-vis work permits. While the recruitment is expected to be cleared by government, itself a 23 percent shareholder in the national airline, the unions may have something else to say about it and will undoubtedly use their clout to pressure KQ’s management into side deals for their own members, and if not voluntarily, then by their usual means of threats of industrial action at the expense of the airline’s financial bottom line.

Kenya Airways has the declared intention to fly by the end of 2013 to every African political and commercial capital city, and as and when the B787 Dreamliner deliveries start to commence, expected but not yet 100 percent confirmed by end of 2013 or early 2014, the addition of more frequencies to existing long-haul destinations will then be accompanied by opening up new destinations in India and China. Flights to the US, also on the drawing board, would, however ,depend on first obtaining US government permission, which two years ago halted the inaugural flight of Delta Airlines only hours before takeoff over obscure “security concerns,” something other airline executives in Nairobi promptly rubbished and which was subsequently perceived as political “arm-wrestling.”