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Whistleblower red flags safety, salary issues at SpiceJet

Whistleblower red flags safety, salary issues at SpiceJet

Former SpiceJet pilot Vinodh Loganathan, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, says "a financially stressed set of crew is a flight safety threat, and since they are not in the right state of mind, a crash can happen anytime"

Although the airline was financially weak before the pandemic, the double whammy of Covid and the grounding of Boeing 737 Max put the airline in a tight spot Although the airline was financially weak before the pandemic, the double whammy of Covid and the grounding of Boeing 737 Max put the airline in a tight spot

Recently, a former pilot of SpiceJet Vinodh Loganathan wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking him to fix the safety hazard caused by the coronavirus-hit SpiceJet. A trained pilot with nine years of experience, Loganathan through the letter said that since the pandemic began in March 2020, SpiceJet has hardly paid the cabin crew and pilots.

This, according to him, has led to pilots and cabin crew becoming financially stressed who are not in a state of mind to operate aircraft. "A financially stressed set of crew is a flight safety threat, and since they are not in the right state of mind, a crash can happen anytime. The world should not forget the Germanwings incident, which happened not so long ago. SpiceJet, in the current state, is a flying coffin and the public should be wary about flying SpiceJet," said Loganathan in his written letter.

In 2015, a Germanwings pilot allegedly crashed an Airbus A320-211 deliberately into the French Alps. Before that, the famous Malaysian Airlines' flight MH370 disappeared in 2014 and was believed to be intentionally downed by its pilot.

While speaking to Business Today, Loganathan said he left the airline in February after he asked the airline to pay his salary. "Post pandemic, they stopped paying salaries to many pilots. Nobody was asking for the full salary, but they didn't even pay after pay cuts. I have been paid just the flying allowance (of Rs 6,000 per flying hour). Despite sending 25-odd emails, HR hasn't paid me the salary dues and gratuity even after over six months of quitting the job. They have not even deposited provident fund since April 2020. Anybody who asks for dues is forced to resign just like they tried to threaten me," he said.

"This is an attempt by a disgruntled ex-employee to sensationalise and create a false safety scare and link it to an unfortunate crash (outside India). The allegations in the letter are an outright lie and an attempt to malign the company and would be met with strongest legal action. The pilot in question had no complaints as long as he was enjoying pay and perks at SpiceJet. There were no safety issues with the airline nor ever did he highlight any violations. Once out of the company, a disgruntled ex-employee having an agenda can level any allegation," says the SpiceJet spokesperson.

Business Today spoke with some pilots to confirm the issue. In an interaction, a captain currently employed with SpiceJet confirmed that he, too, has not been paid dues for several months despite diligently performing his duties. "In SpiceJet, we are under tremendous pressure to keep quiet after our salaries were reduced by 70-85 per cent against the standard 15-30 per cent pay reduction in other airlines. Threats of dismissal are making the employees fall back. We are at risk of losing jobs if we raise our concerns openly. Worse, the fear of getting boycotted in the aviation sector would render us jobless and ruin our careers elsewhere," he said, on the condition of anonymity.

Also read: SpiceJet reports Q1 net loss at Rs 729 cr as COVID-19 wave impacts operations

Another former pilot, requesting anonymity, told Business Today that though the aviation industry is on a recovery path, SpiceJet employees see no end to their worsening condition, even in the near future. "Many employees have had to forgo their homes after they could not pay bank EMIs (equated monthly instalments). Faced with trauma, SpiceJet crew staff of thousands are still trying to perform their duties untold and unnoticed," says this former employee.

Meanwhile, SpiceJet spokesperson denies the allegation of non-payment of salaries since April 2020. "Like airlines worldwide, SpiceJet introduced a revised pay structure for its flying crew last year and has been paying them accordingly. There has been no default on any statutory payments [provident fund] and this information is completely wrong," said the company spokesperson.

As of March 2021, SpiceJet employed 14,619 people. In the first three months of FY22, the airline reported Rs 731.12 crore of consolidated net loss, with Rs 3,298.72 crore of negative worth. From a point when the airline was offering high-end cars as perks to employees some years ago, the last 18 months have been rough for the carrier. Although the airline was financially weak before the pandemic, the double whammy of Covid and the grounding of Boeing 737 Max put the airline in a tight spot.

Disclaimer: The story has been updated following a response from SpiceJet.

Also read: Canadian aircraft maker De Havilland wins $43 million claim against SpiceJet

Published on: Sep 02, 2021, 9:07 PM IST
Posted by: Manoj Sharma, Sep 02, 2021, 8:55 PM IST