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How foreign pilots edge out locals

By | June 21st 2009

By Alex Kiprotich

Some foreigners issued with work permits in specialised fields are exploiting weak immigration rules to secure jobs in the lucrative aviation industry.

The foreigners, who come to the country on the pretext of having specialised skills in education, oil drilling, humanitarian assistance and evangelism, end up being pilots and aircraft engineers without the knowledge of the Immigration Ministry.

Sources in the aviation industry said the foreigners, mostly from Britain, Germany, South Africa and Australia, are taking advantage of the disconnect between Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) and the Immigration Ministry on manpower needs.

Sources say they are exploiting the Immigration department’s inefficient tracking system of foreigners.

A chief pilot with an airline operating at Wilson Airport said: "The foreigners are working outside the specification of their work permits hence taking up jobs meant for the locals."

Unfair competition

He said they enter the country on different work permits but later enrol in schools that train pilots and aircraft engineers.

"They are well aware that KCAA does not bother to demand their current work permits. All it needs is a letter of completion from the schools showing they are qualified to be issued with licences," said the pilot.

He said this has brought unfair competition to local graduates from the flying schools.

The Kenya School of Flying, 99 Flying Club and Nairobi Flight School are some of the authorised pilot training institutions in the country. A single course costs about Sh5 million.

"Schools offering flying courses basically train and ensure all students meet the course requirements before they qualify for pilot’s licence," says Mr SH Nyikuli, an administrator at Kenya School of Flying.

A full training from basic to professional level takes 20 months but students qualify for a private pilot licence after the First Phase (four months).

"The first phase is basically building hours after which the student qualifies for a license," said Nyikuli.

One must have done at least 40 hours to get private licence and 200 hours for a commercial licence. For a pilot to be allowed to fly in the night, they must have clocked at least 250 hours.

Nyikuli says most locals are locked out of employment by lack of understanding of foreign languages.

"It is mandatory that vacancies in aviation industry be advertised in at least one major newspaper but if one adds the rider of a foreign language like Chinese, most locals are locked out," he said.

Issuance of licence

The law gives KCAA the discretion to issue licences to anybody from a recognised and licensed flying school regardless of his or her background.

However, he says: "To address this issue, KCAA needs to check on what work permits the foreigners are operating on before they are issued with pilot licences."

An officer at the KCAA licensing department only identified as Mr Muchemi said they only demand an applicant’s copy of identity card or passport and a medical report.

"We do not need a work permit to issue a pilot’s licence," he said.

Immigration Ministry’s Public Relations Officer Elias Njeru said it was possible that some foreigners could be engaged in activities other than what their work permits indicate. "Our inspectors do random checks but it is possible that some foreigners are doing the wrong thing," he said.

He said the public should be on the watch out and report foreigners suspected to be engaged in illegal activities.

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