KQ pilots push for overhaul of airline's board and management

Kenya Airways is still reeling from the impact of Covid-19 that keeps evolving, with the degree of recovery that the aviation industry has made in 2021 now threatened by the Omicron variant. [File, Standard]

Kenya Airways’ pilots are pushing for an overhaul of the carrier's management and board of directors, arguing that the current leadership cannot turn around the airline.

The Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) wants the board to be made up of professionals from industries that work directly with KQ.

In a proposed structure, the pilots’ lobby said board members should be drawn from players in related sectors such as the aviation industry, horticulture, travel and tourism. The sectors work directly with KQ on a daily basis.

This would be a departure from the current scenario where the investors dictate who sits on the carrier’s board, which Kalpa said has not had much success in recent years.

It has also proposed a re-look at the management structure. "A new leadership is needed, which has a different management style; people who will augur well with the employees on the ground and instil confidence that the Kenyan taxpayer needs to invest in the company," said Kalpa in a public notice.

"Post-Covid, the board should comprise aviation professionals and key relevant stakeholders other than investors." It noted: "A new organisational structure should be established with a direct emphasis on KQ’s core functions and revenue generation streams for the airline and country as a whole… qualified Kenyans should be given priority consideration. "

The powerful pilots’ lobby has in the past been instrumental in the departure of senior officials from the airline, including a chief executive and a chairman. The association also wants improved relations between the airline's leadership and employees, noting that the frosty relationship has affected work at the airline.

"The incoming leadership must rebuild the vibrant team spirit that was once there. Employee welfare is key. With the disregard of which largely affects employee morale, confidence, and loyalty, little can be achieved without passionate and patriotic employees," said Kalpa.

Kalpa said the airline could save huge amounts of money through a review of its procurement process. It noted that the carrier was on average paying "higher than the industry average" in many of the goods and services acquired from different suppliers.

It recommends getting rid of its Embraer fleet, mostly used by Jambojet for its local and regional flights. Instead, the lobby wants KQ to operate only planes manufactured by Boeing, which have a higher capacity for cargo and passengers - both for regional and long-haul flights.

"The Embraer E190, with a seating capacity of 96 and a cargo payload of 3.3 tonnes, is not optimised for the majority of the profitable regional routes, in contrast to the Boeing 737 multi-purpose passenger aircraft," said Kalpa, adding that "reorganisation of the airline’s fleet to one manufacturer type will reduce lease rates, costs of spares, transitional and recurrent training costs, and time."

Kalpa also wants Jambojet and KQ to stop flying to same local and regional destinations and instead play complementary roles. Kalpa proposals come even as the carrier grapples with the possibility of not being nationalised.

KQ had been rooting for the nationalisation of the carrier, which it argued would put it on a  better footing to compete and entrench Nairobi’s position as a continental aviation hub.

A report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) noted that instead of nationalisation, the state will roll out a Sh147 billion ($1.3 billion) multi-year restructuring programme that includes taking over its debts.

Treasury will take over KQ’s debts worth Sh93.5 billion. It will offer the airline Sh53.5 billion in direct budgetary support to clear debts and cover upfront costs of restructuring.

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