(Picture courtesy of Boeing Commercial Airplanes)
Boeing Commercial Airplanes in conjunction with Kenya Airways will later this week bring the B787 Dreamliner to Nairobi for the first time, showing off to the Kenyan public, and the media, what type of aircraft the airline has on order 9 to be precise with an additional 4 options and will begin to fly across the African skies and beyond in a few years.
Kenya Airways ambitious expansion plans, to cover each and every African political and commercial capital by the end of 2013, however also goes along with challenges the company has to meet, not the least to find, train up and the deploy dozens of new pilots, capable of flying the new birds safely.
Other airlines in Kenya and the wider region have in the past already indicated that they feel the heat of KQs aggressive recruitment drives, and that the offer of better packages and the opportunity to fly larger planes to far away destinations holds sway over the decision by individual pilots to leave their workplaces and join Kenya Airways. The recent announcement of downsizing Air Seychelles, where cockpit crews for 5 B767 aircraft are now seeking a new home, has also opened some options for The Pride of Africa but here does the East African Communitys largest airline find itself in a head to head contest with the Gulfs aviation giants like Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad, all of which have already made overtures to the Seychellois crews at a job fair in Mahe.
The aviation industry has for some time now recognized that expansion is critically aided or hindered by key factors, infrastructure on the ground something where Nairobis Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is playing catch up a friendly regulatory regime in terms of having or not having operating restrictions as often seen at key European and American airports, and the ability to expand a competent workforce to keep all the newly ordered birds in the air. Training commercial pilots for jet aircraft operations is thought to take up to at least 5 years of intense training, and while Kenya Airways has dozens of pilot trainees undergoing sponsored training in South Africa, and at the Pride Centre in Nairobi, these efforts need strengthening if the airline is to meet its ambitious targets in coming years.
With reportedly 377 pilots on the Kenya Airways payroll right now, this number has to go up considerably, as does by the way have the number of cabin crew, to have sufficient crews available for every new aircraft which is coming to join the fleet, and now seen as the most important factor to maintain KQs drive to become the continents number 1 airline in terms of passengers carried, aircraft flown and destinations served.
While on Wednesday this week joy and jubilation will mark the inaugural arrival of the B787 Dreamliner in Nairobi, when management and staff, invited VIPs, business partners and the media will have the opportunity to see the worlds latest addition to the skies and even become part of a demonstration flight, it will also be a timely reminder for the airlines top executives of the challenges ahead. Those are not just have been able to order the new aircraft and finance them but to actually get them flying, staffed primarily with Kenyan or East African crews, but ultimately, with any cockpit crews available at the time when the birds come home to Embakasi in Kenya Airways livery.
That however will also come at an added cost to the airline, first for training and then in increased payrolls, a challenge each and every airline not just in East Africa is now faced with as global competition for cockpit crews intensifies with the Gulf being the biggest job market magnet of them all.
Watch this space for up to date news from East Africas aviation industry.