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Last Updated : Apr 19, 2019 04:57 PM IST | Source: Moneycontrol.com

Reminiscing old days, crestfallen Jet Airways employees clinging on to hope

While a growing Indian aviation market means that there are jobs on offer, the prospect is not as bright for everyone in the airline.

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Layovers in star hotels in London and Amsterdam, daily allowance in dollars, taking home over a lakh a month in salary and a cab to pick and drop home. It was a lifestyle that Harsh Mandip* had dreamt of, and had realised when he joined Jet Airways 13 years ago.

"The airline was the one of the best paymasters among Indian airlines, and we used to be envied by friends working in other domestic carriers," he says.

But that dream came crashing down on April 17 when Jet announced that it was suspending operations after banks refused to give interim funding.

A day later, Mandip is among the hundreds of Jet employees who have gathered at Siroya Centre, the Mumbai-based headquarters of the airline.

"I have spent the  most productive part of my age in this airline. Not many options now, just to pray that someone comes and takes over this airline," a worried but hopeful Mandip tells Moneycontrol. 

His hope lies in the four bidders - Etihad Airways, TPG Capital, Indigo Partners and NIIF - who have expressed interest for Jet Airways. He will have to wait at least till May 10, when the lenders are expected to select the preferred bidder.

Meanwhile, he and his 16,500 colleagues at Jet Airways (not counting another 6,000 who are employed indirectly) have to do without salaries. While the airline's pilots, engineers and senior management haven't been paid since January, the rest of the workforce didn't receive salary in March.

And it's not just the salary the employees are worried about. "I have flown for the airline for 23 years. There is that much of gratuity and PF. I hope we will be paid that," said a captain at Jet Airways.

On the back of everyone's mind is the experience their colleagues had at Kingfisher Airlines, which closed down in 2012. Thousands of its employees are still to get their benefits.

The hit...

Jet had about 1,400 pilots before the crisis began, and about 400 of them had left the airline by April 17. The exodus will continue.

Rival SpiceJet is conducting recruitment drives in Mumbai (May 23) and Delhi (May 24). "Pilots will get appointment letters on the spot, but there is a cap of 150," says an executive from the industry.

Many others will be joining IndiGo and GoAir, and some have given job interviews at Air India and its low cost unit Air India Express.

Demand for the pilots is one factor that is different now, from the time Kingfisher Airlines got grounded. Those in the industry recall stories of pilots who were forced to take up jobs in call centres, as there were no vacancies in other airlines.

But now India is the fastest growing aviation market in the world, and carriers - especially IndiGo - are expanding capacity at a furious pace.

That's why, says Rituparna Chakraborty, executive vice president of TeamLease Services, demand for professionals in the aviation industry far exceeds the supply.

"This is especially true for the ground staff, pilots and flight attendants. So individuals in these profiles may not find it difficult to find jobs. However, those in the corporate offices and non-aviation profiles in the company may find it a little challenging," she says.

But there is a catch.

While demand is high for pilots who were flying the narrow body aircraft for Jet Airways, it's not the same for those on the wide body planes.

"There are very senior captains, who have 20-25 years experience. They are used to flying the Boeing 777, long range and wide body aircraft on the international routes," says a pilot at Jet Airways. "They will be reluctant to now fly the narrow body aircraft that IndiGo and SpiceJet have," he adds.

It is not just that these senior captains will have to take a pay cut if they join the low cost carriers, but it's also an "ego issue."

"They are not in demand as airlines like SpiceJet won’t take them as they will have to get them type rated on the 737 (the smaller aircraft), which costs money and time....when there already are many 737 guys available," says another executive from the industry.

Getting a pilot type rated can be an expensive affair too. "It costs about Rs 10 lakh per pilot. This is just the simulator cost. Add trainer, hotels, allowances, etc too," adds the executive quoted above.

About 250-300 from Jet pilots pool fall under this category. Thus, these senior captains will rather wait for a new owner at Jet than look out.

... and the most hit

The engineers too will be hit. But even as Jet Airways loses aircraft and slots in airports to its rivals, demand for engineers will be there.

"It is just that, they may have to take a pay cut, as Jet Airways was among the best pay masters in the industry," says an airline official.

The most hit though will be the crew members of Jet Airways, like Harsh Mandip.

"Most of the cabin crew members in Jet Airways are 'seniors' as many of them stuck to the airline given the higher pay and benefits.  But other airlines will prefer much younger cabin crew for the job," saiys Vinamra Longani, an aviation consultant based in Delhi.

Mandip, who is 38, will be among the seniors for a job where airlines even recruit high school pass candidates.

While career progress can be rapid for a cabin crew member - sometimes progressing  to senior cabin crew, to supervisor  and to flight manager in as less as two to three years - it also ends as abruptly.

"It is only the very few who are able to get a trainer's job, or become part of the cabin crew management team," adds Longani.

The work experience of a cabin crew member may not be valued in most industries, except for in hospitality and retail. "But then, the lifestyle will be a world apart, and so will be the pay," says Longani.

It is a prospect that Mandip wouldn't want to think about, right now.

(*name changed to protect identity)
First Published on Apr 18, 2019 05:55 pm
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