In an unprecedented move in India’s aviation sector, pilots of JetLite, the no-frills carrier owned by Jet Airways (which will soon cease to exist) have been told that their previous flying experience will not hold any value as and when they are absorbed into the parent airline.
The move has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty among JetLite pilots regarding their future. Jet Airways’ chief executive-designate Cramer Ball is scheduled to meet with JetLite’s 230 pilots on September 9 and shed further light on the company’s future plans.
Some pilots of the low cost-airline that Jet acquired from the Sahara Group in 2007 told FE on condition of anonymity that they may quit following the meeting, if the management’s explanation doesn’t satisfy them.
India’s third largest carrier by market share had said on August 13 that it will operate all flights under a single brand, Jet Airways, and the loss-making low cost carrier JetLite will cease to exist.
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In an internal memo dated August 19, the company’s human resources department intimated JetLite’s pilots that they would have to resign and from their employment at JetLite and apply for a job with Jet Airways afresh. A copy of the memo has been reviewed by FE.
When contacted, a Jet Airways spokesperson said that the pilots’ movement to Jet Airways will open career opportunities not only for a command upgrade but also for exposure to flying international routes and also movement to wide-body aircraft.
“During October-December 2013, 50 pilots from JetLite were inducted laterally in Jet Airways for pilot in-charge and first officer vacancies based on operational requirements. This permanent movement of pilots was on a voluntary basis,” the spokesperson said. He confirmed that Ball will be meeting JetLite pilots on September 9.
An aviation practice leader with an international consulting firm stated that the terms and conditions put in place by the airline to absorb JetLite’s pilots may be driven by cost considerations. He declined to be identified.
While their current salary would be protected, JetLite pilots are concerned about their future prospects at Jet following the memo, since their promotions and pay hikes are likely to get deferred due to the new structure.
“The 9W career progression policy as applicable will apply,” the memo said. “Only flying hours logged on 9W aircraft shall be counted for the purpose of pilot movement within 9W for career progression. This shall include the hours logged in during deputation to 9W.”
The memo also states: “The selected pilots shall be placed at the bottom of the 9W APL (Jet Airways’ flying code) within the relevant grade. Irrespective of the above, as far as 9W APL is concerned the S2 (JetLite’s flight code) pilots would have deemed to join the services of 9W on August 19. S2 pilots who would be moving to 9W will maintain their current S2 inter se seniority irrespective of their joining 9W services.”
JetLite pilots interpret the memo as being an indication that though they will continue to fly the same Boeing 737 aircraft, their previous experience will not be taking into account while awarding promotions and Jet Airways’ existing pilots may get preference during appraisals.
Though the memo specified a deadline of August 29 for pilots to either accept or reject the offer, a JetLite pilot said that the deadline had been extended till after the scheduled meeting with Ball. He declined to be identified.
“At present most pilots are confused about the offer and are looking forward to meeting Cramer Ball to resolve their doubts,” the JetLite pilot said.
Another JetLite pilot said that he and his colleagues were “distressed” by the memo. He, too, declined to be identified. “A junior Jet Airways pilot with lesser experience of flying a Boeing 737 aircraft will be given preference over a captain at JetLite with over 5,000 hours of flight hours when it comes to making a transition to flying wide-bodied aircraft like Boeing 777, since the experience with JetLite will not count any more,” said the pilot.
While JetLite pilots have no plans for an agitation yet, they could consider that option depending on the outcome of the September 8 meeting. However, they could consider that option after the September 8 meeting.
JetLite has been struggling to find its feet even after a decade of being in existence and has been a drag on Jet Airways’ overall financials. The no-frills airline has posted an annual profit only twice in the last six financial years, while its losses have quadrupled in the last four years. The revenues of the airline, which is a fully owned subsidiary of Jet Airways, and is run by the same management team that operates Jet Airways, fell 13.2% year-on-year to Rs 1, 747 crore during FY14. Its losses in the same period widened to Rs 429 crore from Rs 295 crore in FY13, according to data submitted by JetLite to the ministry of corporate affairs.
During the same period, Jet Airways saw its consolidated losses widen to Rs 4,129.76 crore from Rs 779.78 crore in fiscal 2013. This led to the airline announcing tough measures to trim costs and achieve profitability with a three-year business plan.
Rhik Kundu | The Financial Express