NAIROBI Kenya Airways urged pilots to call off a strike planned for next week as it halved its pretax loss to 5 billion shillings ($49.4 million) over the past six months thanks to a recovery in passenger numbers.
The carrier, 27 percent owned by Air France KLM, took the unprecedented step of publishing parts of its earnings early in response to the strike called by pilots' union KALPA.
KALPA had said it has lost confidence in the ability of the airline's CEO Mbuvi Ngunze and chair of the board Dennis Awori to end years of losses.
Kenya Airways, in which the government also has a 29.8 percent stake, said the first half numbers showed the claims were not true and that the strike risked hurting its recovery.
"The threatened industrial action called for by KALPA is unjustified and uncalled for," it said, adding the strike fell outside the union's collective bargaining agreement.
The union has called for an indefinite strike starting on Oct. 18.
Kenya Airways said it was already suffering from the effects of the seven-day advance strike notice issued on Tuesday.
"The threatened action is already costing Kenya Airways significant losses as passengers have begun to make cancellations," the company said.
"If KALPA does not forthwith retract its statement, Kenya Airways will have to immediately stop selling tickets."
Passenger numbers rose 4 percent to 2.23 million in the six months to the end of September while planes were 71 percent full on average during the period, a 3 percent improvement, the airline said.
Tourism numbers have been recovering while the airline has also benefited from a number of major conferences held in Kenya this year.
Kenya Airways, which carries 12,000 passengers a day in a fleet of Boeing and Embraer planes, has been hit in recent years by falling earnings triggered by a decline in the number of visitors to Kenya.
Tourism has been hurt by security worries stoked by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab's attacks in the country, in apparent retaliation for Kenya's military deployment in Somalia.
The airline is reducing the size of its fleet, selling non-core assets like land and cutting jobs to recover from the losses it incurred after tourism slumped. It has also said previously it requires fresh capital of 70 billion shillings.
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Edmund Blair/Keith Weir)