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Kenya Airways has appointed Sebastian Mikosz, who oversaw the turnround of Polish flag carrier Lot Airlines, to be its new chief executive as it seeks to recover from four years of massive losses.
Mr Mikosz, who is currently chief executive of eSky.pl, an online travel agency, will replace Mbuvi Ngunze, who has held the post for two years, on June 1.
Mr Ngunze announced his resignation last November after a staff rebellion triggered by the slow pace of reform at the lossmaking airline.
Michael Joseph, Kenya Airways chairman, said Mr Mikosz, who ran Lot on two occasions, was the unanimous choice of the board and offered him his “full support”.
“We have no doubt that under his leadership and guidance the airline, with the support of management and the Board will strive to greater heights and achievements as well as continue to regain its altitude as the ‘Pride of Africa’,” Mr Joseph said.
Under Mr Mikosz’s leadership, Lot made its first profit for seven years in 2014. It has since expanded significantly, carrying some 5.5m passengers last year, up from 4m in 2015. Kenya Airways has more than $1bn of debt following a botched expansion plan seven years ago, which was exacerbated by a slump in passenger numbers after terrorist attacks and the 2014 Ebola outbreak.
Analysts estimate that it will need up to $1bn to restore its balance sheet. It has sold several of its aircraft and unwound unfavourable fuel hedging positions.
Mr Ngunze’s turnround strategy has started to bring results, however. After two years of record-breaking losses, the company reduced its net loss to Ks5bn ($49m) in the first half of this financial year, down from Ks12bn in the same period last year.
Aly-Khan Satchu, a Nairobi-based investment analyst, said most Kenyans would not mind that the new boss of their national airline is a foreigner. “Right now the key issue is the stabilisation of the airline,” he said. “Whoever is competent should be given the opportunity to do the job.”
Mr Mikosz has yet to comment on his appointment. Mr Ngunze will remain as an advisor to the airline for a further two months until some financial restructuring has been completed.