Kenya Airways’ chairman has said he will step down this year after outsourced staff failed to turn up for work on Sunday, forcing flights to be cancelled.

The disruption came two days before the pilots’ union is set to begin industrial action in protest at management’s perceived failure to turn the carrier round after four years of losses despite a court ruling any strike would be illegal.

Pilots are demanding that chairman Dennis Awori and chief executive Mbuvi Ngunze, are replaced.

Awori, who took over as chairman in November, told the Financial Times he would quit as chairman “in this quarter”.

But he denied it was in response to the demands from the pilots and outsourced staff.

“I took on the responsibility for a year to embed the turnround plan,” he said. “The half-year results show the plan is working.”

Kenya Airways announced its first-half results on Thursday, two weeks early, in an effort to ease the mounting pressure it is under after recording the country’s biggest ever corporate loss, Ks26 billion ($256 million), last year.

The figures showed a reduction in net losses from Ks12 billion to Ks5 billion, a 4% rise in passengers and an increase in cabin load factor from 68% to 71% compared with the same period last year.

Management said on Friday that flights to Abuja, Nigeria, and Gaborone, capital of Botswana, would be suspended.

But pilots appear determined to take action to force change in the Nairobi-listed airline, in which the Kenyan government has a 29.8% stake and Air France-KLM owns 26%.

They have said they are open to negotiations, and talks are expected to be held today, according to the FT.

Outsourced contract staff, who are calling for better wages and benefits, have also started protesting. Many, including some cabin crew, refused to work on Sunday, forcing five flights, or 10% of the morning’s schedule, to be cancelled and one to be delayed.

Ngunze has refused to consider resigning but government ministers have said a “major restructuring” of the airline is expected later this month.