Flights grounded, pilots sent on leave without pay: The turbulent times of SpiceJet

There seems to be no respite for SpiceJet. The aviation regulator has asked the budget airline to continue operating only 50 per cent of flights until October. Amid all this, 80 pilots have been sent on leave without pay

FP Explainers September 21, 2022 16:50:40 IST
Flights grounded, pilots sent on leave without pay: The turbulent times of SpiceJet

Currently, the airline is operating 300 daily flights with nearly 50 planes and has 800 pilots. PTI

Airline company SpiceJet has hit headlines again, this time for sending off its pilots on leave without pay.

The airline has sent around 40 pilots from the Boeing 737 fleet and another 40 from the Bombardier Q400 fleet on a three-month leave, according to a report by Business Standard.

However, the trouble doesn’t end there. SpiceJet must continue to operate limited flights only for now as a safety precaution, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation told the budget airline on Wednesday. According to the aviation regulator, the restrictions have been extended as a matter of “abundant caution”, reports NDTV.

As per a 27 July order, the airline was instructed to operate flights only up to 50 per cent of its capacity. SpiceJet’s operations were earlier slashed for eight weeks starting from 27 July, during which it remained under the regulator’s enhanced surveillance. Now the curbs have been extended. The airline has been told to operate only 50 per cent of departures until 29 October 2022.

According to a report by Mint, in order to operate more than 50 per cent of flights beyond the eight-week period, the airline had to demonstrate sufficient technical support. Clearly, it has been not been able to convince the aviation authorities.

Currently, the airline is operating 300 daily flights with nearly 50 planes and 800 pilots, reports The Times of India.

Let’s take a closer look at what’s happening at SpiceJet.

Why is SpiceJet sending pilots on leave?

The budget carrier has sent around 80 pilots on leave without pay for three months as a part of a temporary measure to rationalise costs. A spokesperson of the aircraft told the media that the move will help SpiceJet to synchronise pilot strength in line with the aircraft fleet.

The airline said, “In a temporary measure to rationalise costs, SpiceJet has decided to place certain pilots on leave without pay for a period of three months. This measure, which is in line with SpiceJet’s policy of not retrenching any employee which the airline steadfastly followed even during the peak of the Covid pandemic, will help rationalise the pilot strength vis-a-vis the aircraft fleet.”

Officials have ensured that during the leave without pay period, pilots will remain eligible for all other employee benefits as applicable including all opted insurance benefits and employee leave-travel allowance.

“Even after placing certain pilots on leave without pay, SpiceJet will have a sufficient number of pilots to operate its full schedule as and when the DGCA restriction on flights is lifted,” the airline added.

What are the pilots saying?

The latest move has left pilots disappointed, for obvious reasons.

“The financial crisis of the airline was known to us but the suddenness of the decision has shocked many of us. There is also uncertainty about the company’s financial situation after three months. There is no assurance if those forced to go on leave will even be called back,” a pilot told PTI.

A former SpiceJet employee further said, “Expat pilots were sacked in the wake of the pandemic while cabin crew has been sent on LWP (leave without pay) more than once since 2020. Salary cuts have also been there.”

According to a report by Mint, a pilot said that he has lost all hope in the wake of the recent developments. He said, “I am considering quitting the aviation industry. I am thinking of taking up my family business. As if surviving on less than pre-covid salaries was not enough, now the airline has taken this drastic step. I have lost hope.”

What are the past cases of salary cuts?

This is not the first time SpiceJet employees are finding themselves in this situtation.

Last month, employees alleged that salaries were delayed for the second straight month in August. The budget airline, however, said that the payments were being made in a “graded format”.

An employee said, “The salary disbursal was timely for June. Also, the salaries are yet to match the pre-COVID-19 levels. The salaries being disbursed to captains and first officers are not even 50 per cent of what they used to be before the pandemic outbreak in March 2020.”

Similarly, in 2021, SpiceJet had deferred up to 50 per cent of April’s salary in the wake of a cash crunch caused by the pandemic. According to a report by Business Standard, junior employees like loaders and drivers had received their full salaries, and other employees like ground staff, cabin crew and pilots were only paid 10 to 15 per cent of that month’s salary.

With inputs from agencies

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