Home >News >India >Covid-19: Pilots stare at uncertain future

NEW DELHI: Pilots of commercial airlines are faced with an uncertain future as airlines have resorted to salary cuts and reduced allowances to lower costs at a time when a large portion of their fleet remains idle.

Indian airlines, especially private carriers, have also sent a large number of their pilots on leave without pay, as they operate at just 20-30% of their total capacity given flight operations are capped at 33% and as few are willing to travel because of the threat of covid-19 pandemic.

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

For instance, a senior first officer (FO) or co-pilot with the airline, before the onset of covid-19 pandemic, was paid about 4.30 lakh-4.50 lakh per month as gross salary, which has now been revised to about 67,000, according to an internal communication in May, which has been reviewed by Mint.

A senior pilot at the airline is now paid a gross salary of about 1.25 lakh per month down from 6.3 lakh-6.5 lakh earlier.

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

Apart from the gross salaries, GoAir's senior first officers, who are flying, will now be paid 1,900 per hour for the first 10 hours to 9,200 per hour while flying 60-70 hours during a month. Similarly, senior captains will be paid for flying hours which 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, who requested anonymity.

Meanwhile, pilots with national carrier Air India Ltd are yet to get flying allowance 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, adding that there are three components to salaries for pilots of the national carrier, which include basic salary, flying allowance, and international layover allowance.

"We are yet to get international layover allowance for February and March," the pilot added.

The Indian government grounded all commercial flights when it announced a nationwide lockdown, effective 25 March, to contain the covid-19 pandemic. Domestic flight operations were allowed to resume in a limited capacity from 25 May.

Globally, airlines will lose over $84 billion, the biggest in aviation history, during financial year 2020 because of the covid-19 pandemic and the resultant muted travel appetite, according to Alexandre de Juniac, director general and chief executive of industry body International Air Transport Association.

India's largest domestic airline IndiGo has implemented salary cuts for senior staff, including pilots, from May besides handing out a graded leave-without-pay programme for employees till July to help the carrier conserve cash and reduce expenses. Apart from a salary cut of 20-25%, IndiGo senior staff including some pilots have also been asked to go on a leave without pay that ranges from 1.5 days to five days per month.

"Base flying allowance (BFA) for pilots have been reduced from 70 hours to 20 hours and 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, which has resulted in salary cuts. Similarly, SpiceJet has cut domestic and international layover allowances for its pilots to save costs.

"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.

However, many feel that the deduction of salaries is unfair as pilots often take 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). And now under current circumstances, a large chunk of my salary is pending," said a pilot with the national carrier Air India Ltd.

When contacted, an Air India spokesperson said the airline doesn't comment on internal matters. A GoAir spokesperson didn't offer comments.

IndiGo's chief executive Ronojoy Dutta had earlier told his employees that the airline is left with no option but to implement the originally announced pay cuts during the coming months as the airline worked towards reducing costs.

A Vistara spokesperson had earlier told Mint that the airline's decision on salary cuts does not impact 70% of its staff including cabin crew, other frontline staff and junior corporate office employees.

Spokespersons of AirAsia India and SpiceJet didn't offer comments.

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