Kenya Airways #ticker:KQ has been forced to ground some of its cargo planes due to a shortage of flight staff as the national carrier’s 283 cabin crew remain in mandatory quarantine, costing the firm Sh80 million in occupancy bills.
The Nairobi Securities Exchange-listed carrier has failed to match demand for cargo business at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA) in Nairobi due to lack of crew to operate the planes. Its woes were compounded by the fact that Kenya has struck a deal with Ethiopian Airlines to carry cargo from JKIA to Europe.
This is another blow for the airline in a period when Kenya has frozen international passenger travel in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic, leaving cargo as the only revenue driver.
The loss-making firm had received regulatory approval to convert some of its 41 passenger planes grounded by the pandemic for shipment of cargo to Europe and Asia.
“The issue right now is how we do as many cargo flights as possible to help us supplement our income. But it will be difficult if we cannot get our crew out of quarantine,” KQ chief executive officer Allan Kilavuka said in an interview with the Business Daily. “We still have 283 in the hotels as at today and it has cost us close to Sh80 million. This is money we should have used for operation and sustainability”.
The State last month cancelled flights and ordered everyone flying into Kenya to undergo a 14-day mandatory quarantine, which in some instances has been extended to 21 days.
Kenya yesterday reported 225 confirmed cases and a total of 10 deaths from the coronavirus. One of the victims was a Kenya Airways pilot.
It is still not clear how many airline staff are among the 225 cases confirmed as positive. Initially, KQ had 400 cabin crew in mandatory quarantine.
Kenya Airways has slightly over 30 planes , mainly passenger aircraft. The carrier is betting on cargo shipment via the passenger planes, especially for long haul, amid a rise in demand for freight, notably to Europe.
“We do not have a lot of cargo within Africa and we would like to do long haul to other parts of the world,” said Mr Kilavuka. Freight charges are rising on the back of an increase in demand for aircraft space. Most cargo airlines have reduced their flights following the outbreak of Coronavirus, which has infected over two million people across the world.