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KQ sets sights on expats to ease shortage of pilots

Posted by Administrator on December 19, 2011

Kenya Airways has embarked on hiring at least 60 expatriate pilots to support its expansion plan that will see the carrier double its fleet size over the next five years.

The national carrier said lack of experienced pilots, especially for long haul trips, had forced it to headhunt in what could worsen its ballooning wage bill.

The firm does not have expatriate pilots and the search is expected to spark friction with the fliers’ combative workers union — the Kenya Aviation Pilots Association — fearing the foreign staff will reduce its clout.

“We are working with the government and the union to get approvals to recruit expatriates and we are looking at 60 to 70 captains in the next two to three years,” said Titus Naikuni, the chief executive officer of the airline.

“We may have enough pilots but we don’t have enough of those with relevant experience to be captains”.

KQ plans to grow its fleet from 33 aircraft to 62 by 2016, which will allow it to connect the bulk of Africa’s travellers to the rest of the world through its Nairobi hub.

Aviation players say KQ will need to hire at least 200 more pilots from its current 377 over the next five years, especially experienced pilots or captains to fly the long-haul Boeing and the short-distance Embraer.

Captains are pilots that have flown for a minimum of 4,000 hours in specific planes and in this regard Boeing and Embraer, whose fliers are not available in numbers targeted by KQ since its rivals Fly540 and Jetlink operate smaller planes.

This means that KQ will turn to the talent base of international carriers such as Emirates, Qatar Airways, Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways.

Increased demand for pilots globally has seen compensation for pilots nearly double over the past three years, industry analysts and executives say, putting pressure on margins as airlines spend millions of shillings yearly on training and retaining fliers.

The entry level for a commercial pilot is between $2,000 (Sh180,000) and $3,000 (Sh270,000) depending on plane type, while that of a captain  is between $4,000 (Sh360,000) and $6,000 (Sh540,000).

Reports in Wall Street Journal indicate that captains earn an annual average salary of $165, 278 (Sh13.7 million or Sh1.1 million per month) — a pointer that KQ’s wage bill will emerge as one of the key drivers to its future profits.

The high cost of training pilots has discouraged most people from taking the course. Kenya Airways, for example, spends about Sh8.5 million to train a pilot. The national carrier has invested Sh1.1 billion in a Boeing 737 flight simulator — artificial re-creator of aircraft flight — for in-house training of pilots to reduce its bill of training in South Africa.

KQ’s staff costs stood at Sh11.1 billion in the year to March 2011 compared to Sh10.1 billion in a similar period a year ago, and employee costs is growing as  one of the threats to its earnings, especially after the recent 20 per cent pay increment for non-management staff.

Ageing fleet

The airline’s profit grew to Sh3.5 billion in the year to March compared to Sh2 billion in a similar period last year. KQ is banking on its expansion plan — which will see it move to 44 new destinations in five years — to grow profits.

The airline opens an average of five new routes yearly and currently flies to 56 destinations with 45 of them in Africa, but is now increasingly looking at Asian market.

This is why it signed a deal with Embraer for supply of 10 jets over the next two years with the possibility of acquiring another 16.

It has also signed a deal to buy nine 787-8 Dreamliner planes from Boeing Co to replace its ageing fleet and keep its expansion plan on track as well as three B777-300 ER.

KQ is expecting to start adding the larger Boeing 777 series to its fleet from next year.

pmaina@ke.nationmedia.com

Source: http://www.businessdailyafrica.com/Corporate+News/KQ+sets+sights+on+expats+to+ease+shortage+of+pilots+/-/539550/1291588/-/5e090w/-/index.html

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