While South African Airways (SAA) continues to suck billions in bail-out money from the fiscus, Kenya Airways is thriving. 

The airline may hire as many as 100 pilots annually as the company grows its fleet and adds as many as 20 new routes in the next five years, CEO Sebastian Mikosz said.

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 subleased 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 an interview in the capital, Nairobi. The company has trained 80 pilots so far, and is exploring the hiring of foreign pilots on contract terms to plug the gap created by retirements, departures and resignations.

Under attack

As Kenya Airways flourishes, SAA appears to be mired in more and more trouble. It recently emerged that the SAA Technical division is under siege from a syndicate stealing aircraft components which‚ if not nipped in the bud‚ has the potential to collapse the airline.

According to Themba Godi‚ chair of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) in parliament‚ the stealing of SAA Technical components amounted to billions in lost revenue for the national carrier.

"The reality is that SAA Technical is under siege from its employees, who are looting brazenly, and this looting has become a culture run by a syndicate of people at the bottom right to the top who must be stopped. If you get SAA Technical right‚ all problems‚ financial and otherwise will be solved."

Now Kenya Airways has its sights on SAA pilots. Foreign airlines that may be a source of pilots include the struggling South African airline, Mikosz said.

“There is no other way because we cannot have situations where lack of crews are blocking the 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 is considering adding another Boeing 737 to its fleet, Mikosz said.

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

Bloomberg,  Zingisa Mvumvu and staff writers