Kenya Airways confirms that Dr. Naikuni is to stay on for another year


(Posted 14th November 2013)

Now that the Board of Directors has officially confirmed the news, the story can also be told here after the ‘embargo’ period has effectively lapsed. Dr. Titus Naikuni, CEO of Kenya Airways and Managing Director of the Kenya Airways Group, is not going anywhere, not for another year anyway, as his contract has been extended by a further 12 months until the end of December next year.

It was also confirmed by a board source that the search for a successor has now commenced to ensure a smooth handover of responsibilities during a phase for Kenya’s national airline thought absolutely critical for the future development and in particular the rollout of ‘Plan Mawingo’ which will constitute the legacy of the Naikuni years at the helm of Kenya Airways.

The investors briefing yesterday in Nairobi indicated that the airline may return to profitability in the 2013/14 financial year, a development which will put smiles back on the faces of the shareholders who endured a bad year in 2012/13 but stuck to their shares knowing that this was to be a one off and that the medium to long term prospects of Kenya Airways were broadly judged as between good and very good.

Dr. Naikuni has during his years at the helm turned the fortunes of Kenya Airways from a continental ‘also be’ to a continental market leader, which saw a major rebranding of the airline and a sustained fleet renewal and expansion programme which has changed the face of KQ altogether. Now flying a fleet of 20 Embraer E 190 – the latest of these state of the art jets is due to be ferried from Brazil to Nairobi anytime from now – has this aircraft type replaced the ageing B737-300’s on most regional routes, across East Africa, to the Seychelles and in fact across much of the continent, with the larger B737-800NG’s now serving routes with higher density yet not enough demand yet to deploy wide bodied equipment.

Only two weeks ago did Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta publicly launch KQ’s latest long haul wide body ‘bird’, a Boeing B777-300ER which will in 5 days commence scheduled services three times a week nonstop from Nairobi to Guangzhou in China, offering 400 seats in two state of the art cabins, with 372 seats in a 3x3x3 configuration in economy class and 28 seats in a brand new business class section, featuring the latest flat bed seat technology.

For 2014, the airline expects to be the second in Africa after Ethiopian Airlines to receive the Boeing B787 Dreamliner – and conventional wisdom has it that KQ happily left the honours of being Africa’s launch airline for this aircraft to ET as a result of the teething problems this aircraft had in its early months after the commercial launch – when from March 2014 onwards a total of 6 of these most modern commercial aircraft in use will be delivered. Boeing is also due to deliver a further B737-800NG with their Sky Interior to Kenya Airways as will two more B777-300ER join the fleet next year, while the entire fleet of B767-300’s will be retired.

There are indications, that Kenya Airways is in negotiations with Boeing to add yet more of the B777-300ER’s to the fleet, beyond the three ordered (one already delivered) and it is also an open secret that Kenya Airways is looking at converting options for the B787 Dreamliner into added firm orders.

Plan Mawingo’ in its present format shows a fleet of 119 aircraft by the 2022/3 financial year, including several freighter aircraft, up from 45 aircraft in use right now, and a range of 115 destinations on all continents, up from 65 at present.

(Dr. Titus Naikuni seen here at the recent World Travel Award ceremony at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi after receiving the trophy for ‘Best African Business Class’ – and this correspondent invited on to the platform standing next to him)

All going well, and why should it not, will the remaining 13 ½ months at the helm of Kenya Airways give Dr. Naikuni the opportunity to not just maintain course but also see the number of aircraft rise to at least 50, given the arrival of 11 new aircraft and the retirement of up to 6, a landmark in the then 37 year long history of Kenya Airways and surely an accomplishment any CEO can happily retire with.

There has been plenty of speculation over Dr. Naikuni’s future, starting from last year when rumours were spread of him wanting to enter politics – perhaps premature by some years from close up observation – and it is an almost open secret that he was offered a cabinet position when the present government started taking shape, an opportunity he declined to stay in office at a time when the financial headlines were stark so as to steer the ship back into calmer waters and complete the job, not said verbatim by him but in several conversations clearly found to be a driving factor. With the speculation now over, fellow scribes who kept digging for information will now have their own confirmation and were also proven right, that their ‘but you must surely know’ was spot on, and yet, in the best tradition of observing an embargo request, the story was not broken until today. Watch this space for breaking and regular news from Eastern Africa’s exciting and vibrant aviation scene.

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