Kenya Airways (KQ, Nairobi Jomo Kenyatta) was 62 pilots short in the first two weeks of August, a factor that was partly to blame for 91 flight cancellations during the period, the loss-making carrier has admitted in an internal letter seen by Reuters.

Pilots and engineers have been leaving the loss-making 48.9%-state-owned carrier, in particular to deeper-pocketed Gulf carriers, the news agency said. Of the 91 cancellations, 68 (74%) were due to pilot shortages, according to the document, which added that more were likely in the weeks ahead.

“The market share we have fought hard to win shall be eroded and winning this back will be a much harder task due to diminished customer confidence,” the flag carrier’s management said in the letter to the Kenya Airline Pilots Association (KALPA).

Kenya Airways has 435 pilots, against a fleet requirement of 497, and is currently in the process of recruiting 20 new pilots for its B737 fleet on two-year contracts. Ten existing pilots will be promoted to the cockpits of the carrier’s B787-8s.

The document said that cargo customers had been leaving the airline due to frequent cancellations of flights scheduled with the airline's two B737-300(F)s. It added: “The projected impact of the crew shortage is USD50 million annually, which could have been avoided.”

However, KALPA blamed the airline for not recruiting fast enough, saying in a statement on September 10: “It is no secret that Kenya Airways has one of the lowest rates of pilot recruitment in the world.”

According to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module, besides the two freighters, Kenya Airways' current fleet includes two B737-700s, eight B737-800s, nine B787-8s, and fifteen E190(AR)s. Its subsidiary Jambojet operates five Dash 8-400s, one of which is wet-leased to Kenya Airways.