Kenya is forcing all government employees to fly on its struggling national carrier

Time to turn around.
Time to turn around.
Image: Reuters/Noor Khamis
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“Operation pride,” the ambitious campaign to turn around Kenya’s flailing flagship airline, Kenya Airways, has new support. The government has ordered all state officials to fly only on airlines registered in the country—like Kenya Airways—when traveling for public business or spending taxpayer funds, according to a statement from the cabinet.

The airline, which calls itself “the pride of Africa,” is one of the largest carriers in the region and was once considered a standard bearer of African carriers with ambitious international aspirations. But for the past four years, Kenya Airways has reported losses, suffering from a poorly timed expansion, competition from cash-rich Middle Eastern carriers, mismanagement, and pilot defections.

The airline, 30%-owned by the Kenyan government, has been cutting jobs, reducing its fleet, and is considering selling a stake in itself in an effort to return to profitability.

The government’s new ”Fly Kenya Policy” comes amid the threat of crippling strikes. The Kenya Airline Pilots Association said that its members will strike for seven days starting Oct. 18 if top Kenya Airways executives do not resign. The government has condemned the threat, calling it an act of “economic sabotage.”

The company says its turnaround efforts are working. Half-year earnings to be released later this month are expected to show a net loss of 5 billion shillings ($49 million), an improvement on its 12 billion shillings loss a year earlier. The strike could derail this progress, and is “unjustified and uncalled for,” the airline said in a statement.

If the strike goes ahead, the gains from enforced government travel will count for little (planes don’t go far without pilots, after all). According to Kenya Airways, a pilot strike in April over cost the airline $2 million a day.