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Competitors gain from KQ staff strike

NAIROBI, Kenya, Aug 17- The recent two-and-a-half days strike by Kenya Airways (KQ) workers presented an opportunity for some airlines to capitalise on the absence of the airline on certain routes.

Jetlink Managing Director Capt Elly Aluvale told Capital Business that although August is a busy month for them, the carrier had to increase by four the number of flights operating on the Nairobi- Mombasa route.

“Most of our flights had been full for the last two weeks although this disruption forced us to add two additional flights on Saturday and two more yesterday (Sunday). But we are back to our normal schedule of three daily flights,” he said.

The airline operates 50-seater jets on the route translating into 150 seats to Mombasa and another 150 to Nairobi every day.

Other carriers such as British Airways (BA) were however not as fortunate as BA Country Commercial Manager George Mawadri explained that their flights were already fully booked.

“We would have wanted to assist with any passengers who wanted to be re-routed to different destinations but unfortunately our flights have been full for this period,” he said.

The disruptions caused by the 3,500 workers’ protests to have a 130 percent pay hike saw KQ’s operations drop by over 50 percent on Friday.

The two officials conceded that what happened to the national carrier was unfortunate particularly at a time when passenger numbers were on the increase.

"It’s the summer season and during this time, it is difficult to even get the availability of flights,” the BA’s Commercial Manager explained.

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Strikes and threats of boycotts are not a new phenomenon in the aviation industry. Just last month, BA was faced with a strike threat over plans to lay off 3,700 staff.

Mr Mawadri however defended the sector against reports that it’s prone to strikes saying the industry employs a lot of unionisable workers and therefore such moves are inevitable.

These boycotts are however adding to the challenges that the industry, which is currently facing hard economic times and which is said to be shrinking has to grapple with.

International Air Transport Association has forecasted a $9 billion loss for these airlines in 2009 as the fuel costs continue to surge despite a weak demand for travel.

Although fuel prices are not as high as they were between the months of August to October last year when they were at an average of $140 per barrel, they are on an upward trend.

Industry players have said that if the prices increase from the current $70 per barrel, they are likely to reflect this on the fuel surcharge cost.

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