Home >Companies >News >Pilots bear the brunt of the pandemic as airlines embark on a cost-cutting spree

NEW DELHI : Commercial pilots are staring at an uncertain future with idling airlines cutting their salaries and allowances to lower costs.

Private carriers have also sent a large number of pilots on leave without pay, as most airlines are currently operating at just about 20-30% of their capacity. Airlines can only operate 33% of flights on domestic routes following a government cap.

GoAir has sent a large number of its pilots on leave without pay during the past couple of months, said a pilot with the airline, adding that the company has also restructured the fixed salaries of its pilots.

A senior first officer or co-pilot with the airline, who was paid about 4.3 lakh to 4.5 lakh per month as gross salary, now earns 67,000, according to an internal communication seen by Mint.

A senior pilot is now paid a gross salary of about 1.25 lakh per month, compared to a pre-covid salary of 6.3 lakh to 6.5 lakh per month.

The Mumbai-headquartered airline has also done away with variable allowance for flying more than 70 hours a month, and incentives given during a layover.

GoAir’s senior first officers will now be paid for ‘flying hours’, which range from 1,900 per hour for the first 10 hours to 9,200 per hour for 60-70 hours in a month.

Flying hour wages for senior captains will range from 2,400 per hour for the first 10 hours to 14,400 per hour while flying 60-70 hours.

“Annual increments have also been deferred due to the onset of the pandemic," said the pilot mentioned above, requesting anonymity.

Meanwhile, pilots with national carrier Air India Ltd are yet to get their flying allowances for March, said a pilot with the airline.

“Flying allowances make up for 70% of the total salary of senior pilots and about 50% of total salary for junior pilots," the pilot said.

Pilots’ salaries at Air India are made up of basic salary, flying allowance and international layover allowance. “We are yet to get international layover allowance for February and March," the pilot added.

The government grounded flights when it initiated a lockdown on 25 March to contain the covid-19 pandemic. Domestic flight operations were allowed to resume in limited capacity from 25 May.

India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo has enforced 20-25% pay cuts for senior staff, including pilots, from May besides handing out a graded leave-without-pay programme for employees till July. Senior staff, including some pilots, have also been asked to go on leave without pay for up to five days a month.

“Base flying allowance (BFA) for pilots has been reduced from 70 hours to 20 hours and the reduction in the BFA impact results in around 15% impact on CTC," said a Vistara official.

AirAsia India has cut flying hours of its pilots, resulting in salary cuts.

SpiceJet has cut domestic and international layover allowances for its pilots.

“These are unprecedented times and airlines have no option but to cut salaries to save costs. As things stand, demand outlook is weak and airlines are operating at a very limited capacity," said an official with a no-frills carrier.

The problem is that pilots often have to take out huge loans to complete their training courses and earn their licenses. “We have had to spend 17 lakh to 23 lakh to get a rating on Boeing 787 and 15.5 lakh for bank guarantee (for Boeing 787). Now, under current circumstances, a large chunk of my salary is pending," said a pilot with Air India.

An Air India spokesperson said that the airline doesn’t comment on internal matters. Spokespersons for GoAir, AirAsia India and SpiceJet didn’t offer comments.

IndiGo chief executive Ronojoy Dutta had earlier told employees that the airline has been left with no option but to implement pay cuts during the coming months, as it worked towards reducing costs.

A Vistara spokesperson had earlier told Mint that its cuts left 70% of staff untouched.

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