KQ To Layoff Over 200 Million-Earning Pilots
Kevin Namunwa  |  Aug 24, 2020

Kenya Airways is set to save nearly Ksh 3.24 billion by trimming down its piloting staff by almost half.

The pilots are among the biggest earners at the national carrier accounting for nearly half of its payroll. KQ currently has 414 pilots and it's intending to lay off up to 207 pilots.

The airline targets to offload between 207 and 248 pilots.

KQ has so far laid off some 650 employees, mostly trainee pilots, trainee cabin crew, technician trainees, and newly hired staff on probation, and plans to shed 590 more jobs.

According to the airline, pilots account for only 10% of the workforce and yet take home 45% of the overall employee payout. This means that on average a KQ pilot costs the company Sh1.3 million, a payout that matches the salaries and allowances of top chief executives of State-owned firms.

KQ Chief Executive Allan Kilavuka says that the layoffs are based on the company’s projection.

“Based on our three-year projection, we will require 50 percent to 60 percent of pilots to efficiently support the reduced operations,” Mr Kilavuka said, “Our target is to reduce the company’s overall total fixed costs, not just staff costs, by about 50 percent in response to our revenue projections.”

The airline has been involved in protracted court fights with its pilots and has also suffered from poaching of talent by wealthy Middle East carriers that can afford to pay higher wages, triggering a talent war that has made pilots among Kenya’s best-paid workers.

The number of KQ pilots has dropped by 91 or 18 percent since 2014 when it dipped into losses after making costly aircraft purchases, which coincided with a slump in tourist and business travel to Kenya blamed on a spate of attacks by Al-Shabaab militants.

The airline’s fleet increased from 27 in 2010 to 45 in 2015 while pilots' hiring rose in tandem from 240 in 2006 to a peak of 523 in 2015 on the back of an aggressive expansion plan.

This left KQ with mounting debts and heavier payroll costs as it struggled to return to profitability.