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Passengers stranded as Kenya Airways pilots extend strike

Kenya Airways pilots extended their strike into a second day Sunday, forcing further flight cancellations as the company warned of disciplinary action against anyone participating.

Thousands of passengers were stranded as a result of the strike by the Kenya Airline Pilots Association, which earlier said that no Kenya Airways flight flown by its members had departed Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport from 6:00 am (0300 GMT) onwards on Saturday.

The pilots announced the strike in defiance of a court order against industrial action and did not indicate how long it would last.

On Saturday, the airline’s managing director and CEO, Allan Kilavuka, urged the protesting pilots, who make up 10 percent of the workforce, to return to work by 10:30 am on Sunday.

“Failure to do so will lead to immediate disciplinary action,” he warned.

The airline, partly owned by the government and Air France-KLM, is one of the biggest in Africa, connecting multiple countries to Europe and Asia, but it is facing turbulent times, including years of losses.

The Kenya Aviation Workers Union subsequently announced that ground staff would also strike from 2:00 pm onwards on Saturday in a separate, long-running dispute with the Kenya Airports Authority over salary increases.

But the KAA insisted late Saturday that “staff have reported on duty and operations at all our airports are normal.”

Calls by AFP to KAWU representatives were not answered.

The pilots’ strike has thrown over 9,000 passengers’ plans into disarray, according to the airline, with travelers turning up at the Nairobi airport on Sunday, only to find out that their flights were cancelled.

“I came here at around 5:25 in the morning… but I have been informed that the flight has been cancelled,” passenger Erick Muhanda, who was due to travel to South Africa’s port city of Cape Town, told broadcaster Citizen TV.

“It’s quite inconveniencing,” he said.

The pilots are pressing for the reinstatement of contributions to a provident fund and payment of all salaries stopped during the Covid-19 pandemic.

On Monday, the airline won a court injunction stopping the strike, but an official at KALPA, which has 400 members, told AFP the pilots “were acting within the provisions of the law” and that they were yet to be served with a court order.

The carrier has warned that the strike would jeopardise its recovery, estimating losses at $2.5 million per day if the pilots went ahead with their plans.

The airline was founded in 1977 following the demise of East African Airways and flies more than four million passengers to 42 destinations annually.

It has been operating in large part thanks to state bailouts following years of losses.

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