Jet staff future still up in the air with no surety on career prospects

Jet Airways
Jet Airways has been facing turbulence for the past few months resulting in job cuts, delayed salaries, grounded fleet, and cancelled flights. But even as it prepares to restore operations, funding concerns persist among its staff over the future of the airline and their own careers. 

“Even if operations are normalised, there is no surety on growth and career prospects in the airline,” said a Jet employee.

Increments are ruled out now as the airline can ill afford to increase its wage bill. There is also a possibility of layoffs. Jet has around 15,000 staff on its rolls and the count has dwindled over the last year due to retrenchment and resignations, especially among pilots.

On the positive side, lenders have pitched in with funds. “Today, we are better off. We had no funds till yesterday and now the banks are providing Rs 1,500-crore loan and this will be used to pay lessors, release the grounded aircraft, and revive operations,” a Jet executive added. 

The airline is flying 30-35 planes now and plans to operationalise an additional 40 grounded planes by April end.

Pilots, engineers, and members of senior management have not been paid salaries for January and February and have received only 12.5 per cent of the December pay. The airline is expected to make part payment to the employees this week. The salary quantum will depend upon the release of funds from banks; timely payment is crucial as pilots have decided to stop flying from April 1. Junior employees up to the level of general manager have received their salaries on time.

As rival airlines grow and expand their fleet, they continue to hire pilots, engineers, and cabin crew. But incremental hiring in non-operational roles (commercial functions, including revenue management, sales, network planning, etc) in domestic airlines remains limited.

Domestic airlines continue to hire ground staff to cater to the expansion, and the requirement depends upon the number of departures and their flight schedule. But if Jet Airways were to shut down, rivals would not be able to fully absorb all its ground personnel.

“The maximum hiring in any airline is that of pilots and cabin crew. There are regulations and industry norms which guide requirement of pilots and crew, but there is no such norm governing hiring of ground staff. The only exception is in security role where airlines are bound to hire certain number of staff per aircraft. Increasingly, airlines are focusing on automation and encouraging the use of self-service kiosks, reducing their requirement for manpower,” said an executive from a rival airline.   

Over a dozen staff from the engineering department has joined SpiceJet and Qatar Airways. Two hundred-plus pilots left the airline in the last six to eight months as the airline defaulted on salaries. In recent weeks, around 40 of them have joined SpiceJet. The airline has around 1,600 pilots and most of them have continued to stay back despite salary delays. A part of the reason for the same is generous duty patterns Jet offers its captains, compared to its peers.

“In the last eight months, we have been subject to unprecedented financial trauma. Some of us have been affected by adverse credit reports as well. The role played by stress relating to financial trauma is not something we are trained to handle and the less experienced may be highly susceptible,” Captain Sam Thomas, a Jet Airways pilot and president of the Airline Pilots Association of India, wrote to his colleagues, asking them to remain strong and support the juniors.

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel