Pilots ask for resumption of old salary, will airlines play ball?Page Visited: 14
A couple of mails – one from unions of Air India pilots and the second from an anonymous SpiceJet pilot, have asked for urgent consideration
Two mails – one from a pilots union and the second from an anonymous aviator – on successive days have brought back the spotlight on what once was the probably the most coveted resource in aviation.
The mails, lamenting the salary cuts and ‘unnecessary stress’ on pilots, surfaced even as airlines have talked about improving traffic numbers and hopes of reaching pre-COVID-19 levels by the first quarter of 2021. But pilots complained their salaries remain low, and there doesn’t seem to be any attempts to normalise them.
The first mail, on November 30, was from Air India pilots unions – Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association and Indian Pilots’ Guild – addressed to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Requesting an ‘urgent’ meeting, the unions said that they “fail to understand why barbaric austerity measures apply only to Air India pilots.”
Pointing out to Puri’s earlier remarks that domestic traffic will normalise by the end of the year, the letter says that while other airlines have started rolling back austerity measures, “the wage cut for Air India pilots further increased from October 2020.”
The second mail was sent the following day, by an anonymous SpiceJet pilot, to the airline’s Chairman and Managing Director Ajay Singh. Alleging that their contracts were changed post the COVID-19 pandemic and that they had no option but to sign them, the writer who called himself SpiceJet Pilot, said that the pilots are “getting 10 to 30 percent of their original salary.”
While both the letters soon made the rounds of social media platforms, some questioned the anonymous letter. “There is no way to even establish whether its a pilot who has written it, or some outsider,” a senior executive from the industry said.
A SpiceJet spokesperson strongly refuted the allegations. In a statement to Moneycontrol, the spokesperson said:
“An anonymous letter claimed to be written by a ‘SpiceJet pilot’ has been brought to our notice. This is a mischievous and deliberate attempt to defame the airline. Our pilots, like the rest of our employees, have stood solidly behind the airline in these troubled times and we, as a team, have been able to exceptionally sail through these tough times and are rebuilding ourselves. There is absolutely no discontent among our pilots. Employee salaries have risen steadily as the passenger traffic has grown. This is an attempt to malign the airline and mislead the media through completely baseless, misleading material.”
Sources in the industry confirmed that the airline indeed has raised salaries, or partially taken back the cuts, for a section of its employees. But these may not include pilots.
The new normal
Post the first lockdown, after which domestic flights were grounded till May, all airlines resorted to salary cuts and leave without pay to reduce costs. Some, including IndiGo, even let go off some of their employees. The country’s largest airline reduced its manpower by 10 percent.
The carriers also changed contracts of pilots. GoAir did, reducing pay by over half. And so did IndiGo, with its senior pilots’ salaries slashed by over 40 percent.
Circumstances have changed, a bit, since those early days. Even as the government increased the cap on capacity utilisation – which at present stands at 70 percent – domestic traffic has also improved, month-on-month. Senior executives estimated that traffic will reach pre-COVID levels by the first quarter of the New Year. These include IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta and Vistara’s Chief Commercial Officer Vinod Kannan. Minister Puri may have tweaked his outlook by saying that things will normalise by the year-end of early 2021.
But even as things normalise, airlines may not be in a hurry to reinstate salaries or get more employees back to work. Multiple industry executives said IndiGo is the only airline as of now to reduce the leave without pay component, to three days a month from 10 days. While this may improve the availability of a pilot to fly, that may not necessarily translate to higher allowances.
“Airlines may want to recover their losses before going back to pre -Covid-19 salary levels,” said a senior executive from the industry. “And given the current employment conditions there is hardly any attrition, and thus nothing to push airlines to raise salaries,” the executive added.
This new normal – a far cry from the days where airlines competed to woo pilots – may remain so for a while.