KQ pilots' strike paralyses air travel in Kenya as Murkomen drives to JKIA for crisis meeting

KQ aircraft parked at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on August 1, 2020. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen on Saturday morning, November 5, drove to the JKIA for a crisis meeting with the Kenya Airways' top management following pilots' strike.

The KQ pilots downed tools starting 6am Saturday, paralysing travel operations at East Africa's busiest airport, the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The pilots, through their union, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), is demanding that KQ restarts contributions to its staff pension fund that was stopped during the pandemic, and the payment of all salaries that were accrued at the time.

The KQ pension scheme needs at least Sh1.3 billion annually, with pilots taking home the largest chunk of the kitty - Sh700 million - which is equivalent to 53.8 per cent of the funds.

The KQ pilots also want the airline's board and executives removed, citing governance issues.

KALPA, through its Secretary-General Captain Murithi Nyagah, had issued an industrial action notice, saying they'd go on strike today (November 5, 2022) if their grievances were not resolved.

Attempts by KQ to persuade the pilots to rescind their decision, citing tough economic times, have been unsuccessful.

The airline got a court order this week stopping the planned strike, but KALPA remained adamant that they won't report to work if their grievances were not addressed.

A Friday evening, November 4, crisis meeting between the KALPA representatives and Transport Cabinet Secretary Kipchumba Murkomen did not yield a return-to-work agreement.

In the evening the KQ management, led by Chief Executive Officer Allan Kilavuka, said they were ready to negotiate with the pilots in order to avert the looming industrial action.

On Saturday, tens of outbound flights were cancelled, with the KQ communicating to its customers that the interruption was as a result of the pilots' strike.

"Due to the ongoing unlawful industrial action by Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA), we are experiencing high call volumes at our Customer Excellence Centre. Please contact us only if you are travelling within 48 hours. Kindly accept our apologies for the inconvenience," KQ said in a statement on Saturday morning.

Transport CS Kipchumba Murkomen drove to the JKIA early Saturday to meet KQ CEO Kilavuka and Board Chairperson Michael Joseph.

Outbound KQ flights from all international airports in Kenya were grounded, with thousands of travellers affected.

The KQ management estimated that the strike would subject the airline to a revenue loss of Sh300 million daily.

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