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Pilots push out top Kenya Airways managers

By Moses Michira | April 30th 2016
Kenya Airline Pilots Association Secretary General Paul Gichinga addresses the press on Tuesday. [PHOTO: WILLIS AWANDU/Standard]

Top managers at Kenya Airways resigned late Thursday following intense pressure from striking pilots.

Human resources director Alban Mwendar and his Flight Operations counterpart Paul Mwangi are among those who left the airline in a compromise that informed the suspension of the eight-hour strike.

Nearly 20 flights were cancelled on Thursday as the nearly 500 pilots stayed away from work, leading to massive inconveniences for thousands of travelers.

Safety director Alex Avedi also resigned in a communique issued by KQ Managing Director Mbuvi Ngunze, who was the pilots’ top target for elimination.

“Following further consultations held today, the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (Kalpa) and KQ, with the intervention of the Cabinet Sub-Committee on Kenya Airways, have reached an agreement that will see management changes effected immediately,” the association Secretary General Paul Gichinga said before calling off the strike at 8.28pm.

It emerged from the closed sessions that the pilots wanted the executives sacked for running down the airline, which last year reported a near Sh30 billion pre-tax losses.

Before the resignations, the pilots were locked in a day-long strike, all in uniform, in a meeting that started at around 10am and graced by Transport Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and KQ chairman Dennis Awori.

By the time the CS was leaving at a few minutes after 1pm, there were no indications of the pilots having their demands met.

But their meeting ran on into the night, while the passengers’ agony was growing amid multiple flight cancellations.

Behind the scenes, Macharia was tied on tough bargaining with Kalpa executive committee over the phone, and had even indicated at about 7pm that he would return to Rubani House, the headquarters of the pilots’ association, to try break the stalemate. The resignations were only part of the wins scored by the pilots whose other demands included shelving of a plan to redeploy some of them to Ethiopian Airlines.

KQ had sent out notification letters to the 32 pilots selected to work for the Ethiopia State-owned airline, in a move bitterly protested by the more than 500-member strong association.

“Please note that by sharing information, the pilots are only in-principle agreeing to being placed with Ethiopian Airlines,” Mwenda wrote to the association.

At the heart of the redeployment is the decision taken by KQ to dispose several of the Boeing 777 series of jets in the now troubled fleet rationalisation programme.

Ethiopian Airlines has 16 Boeing 777s planes on its fleet, including six used as cargo freighters.

Pilots who fly these aircraft are among the senior-most, considering that they were first built in the 1990s.

Further, the pilots were expected to re-apply for jobs in the rival firm, but the terms of their employment had already been agreed on between the two airlines, according to Kalpa.

KQ had earlier announced a staff rationalisation programme that has seen hundreds of workers, not pilots, sent home in early retirement as a means of cutting costs.

Several hundred employees have already been sent home in the first round.

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