Jet Airways pilots have said they, along with engineers and another highly critical segment of employees, have not been paid salaries since January 1. The airline has released only 12.5 per cent of the December pay, they said. Jet Airways, which reportedly has a debt of a billion dollars, has failed to pay lenders and aircraft lessors and has grounded one third of its fleet. The next few days will be critical for its future as the pilots have said they will not fly from April 1 unless Jet clears their pending salaries.
The pilots' union NAG (National Aviators' Guild) has appealed to the Prime Ministers' Office (PMO) and Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu for urgent intervention. There are hundreds of pilots that have reportedly approached other airlines for jobs.
''Solve the issues of the pilots. They are undergoing lots of hardships,'' says Captain Chopra in a letter to the Civil Aviation Minister, Suresh Prabhu. He is a Boeing 777 commander with more than two decades of experience as a pilot, who also heads the union representing pilots of Jet Airways.
Captain Karan Chopra adds, ''There are EMIs to be paid by the pilots. There are kids' education, aging parents and hospital bills. Marriages have been postponed. Young First Officers have called me repeatedly and have said 'Sir, we have to pawn ornaments of our mothers. Please save us. Please urge the management to pay our salaries."
''Stress in this section of employees can easily compromise safety and is not at all desirable in a profession that demands the highest levels of alertness and safety,'' he says.
Once India's second-biggest airline, Jet Airways has been forced to ground almost two-thirds of its fleet because of its inability to pay lessors. As per industry estimates, Jet has total debt of Rs 8,000 crore in addition to payables such as vendors' dues worth Rs 15,000 crore.
According to reports, State Bank of India has asked the airline's chairman Naresh Goyal , his wife and two nominees to step down from the board of the airline with immediate effect. The lenders have also agreed to put in Rs 1,200 crore of interim financing, which would make them the majority equity holder after Etihad decided to pull out.
In the meanwhile, rivals like IndiGo and SpiceJet are potential beneficiaries of Jet grounding most of its fleet. The government has tried reaching out to other carriers for saving jobs at Jet Airways India Ltd. including SpiceJet Ltd. to consider taking over some of the debt-laden company's aircraft, as per media reports.
The proposal involves SpiceJet, led by Chairman Ajay Singh, acquiring as many as 40 of Jet Airways' grounded planes that are owned by lessors, one of the people said, asking not to be identified as discussions are preliminary. The government has also reached out to other carriers. "Operating 40 aircraft will help employ as many as 250 pilots as well as cabin crew, maintenance workers and engineers," sources quoted.
The aviation regulator recently said Jet Airways had only 41 aircraft in its fleet for operations out of around 120 planes, and that there might be further attrition in the fleet size and flights ahead.
(Edited by Rupa Burman Roy)