Kenya Airways (IATA: KQ), flag carrier of the Republic of Kenya, has converted four of its nine Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners for cargo operations amid a complete halt of passenger operations occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an interview with local radio station Spice FM on the morning of 16th April, KQ's CEO Allan Kilavuka stated that since the airline first began cutting down on international passenger operations in January, the entity has been forced to seek alternate sources of revenue.
Cargo operations which previously only accounted for 5% of the carrier's operations are now therefore a prominent earner of revenue, with the 4 Dreamliners now complimenting the cargo operations of the 2 Boeing 737-700 Freighter aircraft in the airline's fleet. The carrier also plans to convert some of its Embraer E190 aircraft for regional cargo operations.
Notable cargo operations with the converted aircraft have involved runs to Johannesburg O.R. Tambo Airport and London Heathrow Airport from the carrier's Nairobi hub, carrying medical equipment and fresh horticultural produce respectively.
The newly appointed CEO also noted that between January and April 2020, the carrier has lost an estimated US$78 million in revenue, mainly due to the loss of passenger revenue in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a bid to cut down on recurrent expenditure, Mr. Kilavuka took an 80% pay cut, while senior management at the airline took a 75% pay cut, with the status of both to be reviewed monthly. The carrier expects that 75% of its pre-COVID operations will resume within 18 months of the pandemic's containment, at which point it will be in a better financial position.
The carrier has already expressed its wish for financial support from the Kenyan government in order to maintain operations such as payment of staff salaries, maintenance of aircraft (which is a daily necessity even when aircraft are grounded), and cabin refurbishment during this period. The CEO justified this position by expressing the strategic importance of KQ to Kenya's economy, where it is said to create employment for 18,000 Kenyans either directly or indirectly, and to be of importance to other vital Kenyan industries such as agriculture and tourism.
However, it is worth noting that the carrier has not reported a profit since 2013, and has since then relied on state support. Even though attempts at correcting this situation have so far proven futile, including the move by immediate former CEO Sebastian Mikosz to merge airline and airport operations in order to increase revenue, Mr. Kilavuka urged the public to have faith and continue supporting KQ's continued march to its past glory.