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Fight crew, ground staff and other employees of airlines are staring at an uncertain future as the second covid wave has led to a steep decline in passenger demand, leading to some airlines opting for salary cuts and other measures to tide over the crisis.

Airlines resorted to salary cuts (including reduction in flying allowances), compulsory leave without pay and even job cuts during the nationwide lockdown in March and April last year.

With a sharp rise in infections, several staff expect the companies to initiate further cost-cutting steps, including reduction of manpower, to survive the crisis.

SpiceJet Ltd has cut up to 50% salary for April for all its employees citing the upheaval caused by the pandemic. Employees at the budget airline have started an online petition against the management, stating that despite risking their lives to perform their jobs, the employees are underpaid while some who worked full time have received only a portion of their salaries.

“We fear that there could be job losses if the situation worsens as most airlines, including SpiceJet, have reduced their capacity because of declining passenger traffic," said a senior pilot with the airline, requesting anonymity.

This comes in the wake of pilots of Air India Ltd on Tuesday telling the airline’s management that they will stop working if the company fails to set up vaccination camps across India for its flight crew.

Many crew members of Air India have been diagnosed with coronavirus, are struggling to get oxygen cylinders, and are left to fend for themselves for hospitalization, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union of the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots and pilots of narrow-body aircraft of Air India, said in a letter to the national carrier’s director (operations), Captain R.S. Sandhu.

Air India later announced that it will vaccinate all its employees by May-end.

Meanwhile, with the government’s proposed plan to privatize the airline this fiscal, many Air India workers, who are struggling with salary cuts, face an uncertain future. Pilots with the carrier said their salaries were cut by 55-58%, as the airline last year trimmed flying allowances that make up for a large chunk of pilot salaries. After much protests, the management agreed to restore 5% of the cut, which was rejected by the pilots.

A SpiceJet spokesperson said the airline hasn’t cut jobs due to the pandemic and is taking steps to strengthen its financial health.

Spokespersons of IndiGo, GoAir, AirAsia India, and Air India declined to comment on measures to offset the challenges.

“The second wave of covid-19 led to further reduction in demand, adversely impacting the operations and business across the aviation industry. From a business perspective, we are closely monitoring the situation and shall remain nimble in our approach," said a spokesperson of Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines.

Most players have withdrawn capacity, almost overnight, as the second wave of covid-19 has led to a drastic fall in passenger traffic. For the first time since August 2020, domestic passenger traffic dipped below the 1 lakh per day mark on 3 May, said Ameya Joshi, independent aviation analyst and founder of aviation website NetworkThoughts.

“This is less than 25% of pre-covid numbers. While there remains a cap on capacity (80%), the current deployment is less than 50%," Joshi said.

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