Airlines start restoring pilots’ pay cut as flights go full

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Despite partial restoration of salaries, pilots across airlines remain dissatisfied, throwing challenges for managers.

The Tata group, the new owner of Air India, has begun the process of restoring salaries of pilots and cabin crew members in a wider restructuring of wages and allowances to align them with those of its three other airlines.

On Friday, the airline restored employee salaries by almost 75 per cent as compared with the pre-Covid level. For pilots, the company restored 20 per cent of the flying allowance in the current phase.

The existing cut is 35 per cent of the pre-Covid level. Special pay and wide-body allowances of pilots, which saw a cut of 40 per cent, will be restored by 25 per cent.

“As the hope of a post-pandemic world seems within reach, the aviation sector takes off once again with some visible changes in our performance. We are happy to inform you that your salary cuts have been reviewed and the restoration of salaries will happen in a phased manner. The changes will be implemented with effect from April 1, 2022,” Amrita Sharan, director (personnel) of the airline, said in a memo to the employees. Salaries will be reviewed further as performance improves in the coming months, she added.

India’s largest airline IndiGo, which had introduced a 28 per cent pay cut for pilots in 2020, partially reinstated their salaries with the stabilisation and growth in its operations. Last month, the company announced an upward revision of 8 per cent in salaries of all pilots with effect from April 1.

Similarly, IndiGo’s low-cost rival SpiceJet has hiked salaries of its captains by 10 per cent, and of first officers by 15 per cent, according to an internal communication. The salary hike for trainers at SpiceJet stands at 20 per cent. These increments would be effective from March.

Tata Sons-owned Vistara has also reintroduced the bonus component in salaries for eligible pilots from April 1.

As demand for air travel increases, allowing airlines to deploy more of their fleet, pilots are seeking reversal of pay cuts. Despite partial restoration of salaries, pilots across airlines remain dissatisfied, throwing challenges for managers. IndiGo is currently operating more than 1,500 flights per day, which is higher than what it operated before the Covid outbreak.

“Airlines are back to operating capacity of the pre-Covid level. Our duty hours have significantly increased, and in some cases are more hectic than pre-Covid times. So why not restore full salary?” a senior commander said, pointing out that airlines have restored full salaries of employees of other departments.

The disgruntled pilots have started voicing their protest to the management. Last week, IndiGo suspended five pilots after a group of them allegedly planned to organise a strike and disrupt operations of the airline, demanding reversal of pay cuts.

Similarly, more than 100 AirAsia India pilots have written to the management, demanding restoration of pre-Covid salaries, saying their flying hours have reached the pre-Covid level.

Last week, a union of Air India pilots wrote to Tata Sons’ Chairman N Chandrasekaran, seeking restoration of their emoluments. The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association said their salaries were cut by 55 per cent citing Covid-19.

However, airlines said the number of flights was not an indicator of financial health. “Even though the number of flights has increased, utilisation of the fleet is still at around 11 hours, as against 13.5 hours in 2019. 2.5 hours reduction in utilisation of each aircraft in effect means that fleets are still grounded. Simultaneously, oil price is at record high, increasing cost of operations significantly,” said an executive of IndiGo.

In his letter announcing the bonus payment in salaries, Vistara’s senior vice president Hamish Maxwell pointed out that while oil prices were at their highest since 2008, the airline was facing challenges from geopolitical tensions in Europe.

Human resource officers of airlines say salaries are a pointer of demand-supply scenario. They say that as foreign airlines, particularly from the Gulf, start their hiring, India will again face the problem of pilot shortage and salaries will have to be increased.

“In 2018, many Indian airlines were giving bonus to pilots for surrendering their leaves. Salaries were at a record high as Emirates and Qatar Airways poached. Till that scenario arrives again, airlines are trying to control their salary expenditure,” he said.

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