INTERNATIONAL - Kenya Airways may hire as many as 100 pilots annually as the company grows its fleet and adds about 20 new routes in the next five years, says chief executive Sebastian Mikosz.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s third-largest carrier is facing “significant operational challenges” and needs as many as 70 additional first officers and 50 captains to operate its current fleet of 40 aircraft, along with new aircraft it plans to acquire, Mikosz said.

The airline is preparing to take back five aircraft sub-leased to Oman Air Transport and Turkish Airlines from October and needs more people to fly them, he said.

“We believe this is the only way to use the fleet we are getting back and eventually any new fleet, and we have to do it now,” Mikosz said in the country's capital, Nairobi.

The company has trained 80 pilots so far and is exploring the hiring of foreign pilots on contracts to plug the gap created by retirements, departures and resignations.

The airline on Wednesday reported a loss of 4billion Kenyan shillings (R581.5million) in the six months to June, narrowing from 5.67billion shillings a year earlier, as revenue grew 3.1percent to 51.2billion shillings.

The stock climbed 2.4percent in Nairobi yesterday, heading for its highest close in six weeks.

New revenue

“The biggest concern they have is new revenue,” said Mercyline Gatebi, head of research at Kingdom Securities in Nairobi.

“If the foreign pilots are coming at cheaper negotiated rates, it means the cost-benefit analysis is well thought out and it may benefit Kenya Airways’ top line.”

The carrier could source some experienced foreign pilots to save on training costs, according to Gerald Muriuki, an analyst at Genghis Capital.

Still, the Kenya Pilots Union may oppose the hiring of foreign pilots, he said.

Foreign airlines that may be a source of pilots include struggling SA Airways, Mikosz said.

Lack of crew

“There is no other way because we cannot have situations where lack of crews are blocking growth of the airline,” he said.

“There are always emotions when you change things, but that’s life.”

Kenya Airways plans to expand its cargo business, and was considering adding another Boeing 737 to its fleet, Mikosz said.

“We are working on a model to have more freighters,” he said. The airline would “gladly look at another 737, maybe a wide-body freighter,” Mikosz added. 

- BLOOMBERG