Demand for air travel is picking up, but pilots are a disgruntled bunch


A low-cost airline pilot says her pay cut cut her pay by 10 years

A low-cost airline pilot says her pay cut cut her pay by 10 years

While passenger demand for air travel is rebounding, allowing at least some airlines to turn a profit, pilots in the country are riled as they continue to suffer severe pay cuts despite hectic work schedules.

A pilot at a low-cost airline says her pay cut took her pay back by 10 years when, as a new recruit and junior pilot (or first mate), she was making just £60,000 a month while spending £1 crore on her pilot training.

Although the airline imposed a 28% pay cut on paper, flight allowances, which make up a significant portion of a pilot’s salary, were cut by 50%.

“Pilot morale is really low across the industry,” said one pilot. “While I was trying to wire my home loan to another bank to get a lower interest rate, some of my co-workers had to either sell their homes or cars or pull their kids out of school,” a Pilot said.

There are families in which the husband and wife are pilots, which means that household income is halved.

What concerns pilots the most is that the cuts continue despite the revival in passenger demand, which in March was between 75% and 95% of pre-pandemic levels. Planes are also busier than before, with more than 80% of seats sold in February. Recently, IndiGo and SpiceJet reported earnings after a seven-quarter gap, with the former posting £1.30 billion of profit and the latter £42.5 billion.

“We remained calm when wage cuts were introduced early in the pandemic as very little was flown due to various restrictions. But now we are frustrated because the work has increased significantly and the flights are also full of passengers,” said another pilot.

The pilot added that total duty time for pilots has increased and on some days they fly up to 12 hours, which is the maximum allowed under DGCA rules. COVID-19 protocols also mean pilots are spending longer at airports than they did before the pandemic, but this doesn’t count towards duty time.

On Thursday, IndiGo reduced pay cuts to 20% from 28% for pilots and 38% for examiners to 30%. The airline also said another 6.5 percent revision will be implemented from November 1. But the move has only met with disappointment.

“Obviously no one is happy about two years of pay cuts that big. It’s no longer logical to go ahead with that,” said a pilot from another low-cost airline. “Because we didn’t fly before, we didn’t get paid. Now the workload has increased and it’s time for airlines to restore salaries. Many international airlines around the world have started hiring again and if airlines continue to behave this way there is no reason for pilots to stay and Indian airlines will lose their trained pilots.”

Pilots at Air India are repeating a longstanding problem. They say a 40% cut in allowances will disproportionately hit pilots and cabin crew as those with flight duties receive a higher proportion of their salaries as allowances.

“Tatas has done nothing to eliminate this inequality. Staff have raised this issue and we were told management will review the decision when the airline’s financial situation improves,” said one pilot.

“We continued to fulfill our duties despite the fear of contracting COVID-19 and carrying the infection home from airports, but all we got were pay cuts,” said another pilot.

“While airline management may say that ATF is at an all-time high and there is uncertainty about the fourth wave, airlines need to find better ways to cope with fuel price volatility and find ways to levy costs on the market instead end-users to let their employees shoulder the brunt,” said a low-cost airline pilot.

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