The impact of Jet Airways going down due to a critical liquidity crunch is expected to be seen across various stakeholders including rival airlines, consumers, airports, ground handling firms and the company’s more than 16,000 employees.
While a chunk of Jet’s employees started looking for jobs at rival airlines — many even taking a pay cut — for the airlines a race to fill the void left by Jet has begun. Sectoral experts suggest that those able to augment capacity the fastest will be the ones that benefit the most.
“The closure of Jet, even if temporarily, is definitely a setback to Indian aviation. It is indeed a sad day for all those in the business of flying in the country to witness a fine airline closing shop. While sustained mismanagement definitely contributed, the fact remains that in the entire aviation eco-system, it is the airline that invariably remains at the receiving end while all other stakeholders make money. We have in the past witnessed many airlines shutting ship and it is time to appreciate that the razor thin margins which airlines are forced to operate with in a competitive environment, results in a scenario that encourages unsustainability,” Ashwani Lohani, state-owned Air India’s chairman and managing director said on Wednesday.
Over the past few weeks, rival airlines including IndiGo, SpiceJet, Vistara, AirAsia India and Air India have lapped up prime slots vacated by Jet Airways in airports such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. However, the reallocation of slots, which is temporary till such a time Jet Airways is able to resurrect itself, is also subject to capacity addition by airlines. It is noteworthy that there is no precedence in the country for an airline that cancelled all its flights to get back into skies. An official at the civil aviation ministry noted that slots will only be reallocated as long as additional capacity is made available.
While the airlines mount additional flights and induct more aircraft to fill the gap, Jet Airways employees – who have been unpaid for months – have been scrambling for new jobs. Around 200-300 pilots – both of commander and co-pilot rank – appeared for roadshows organised by airlines including IndiGo and SpiceJet for hiring of pilots.
“Pilots have remained loyal to Jet Airways because of the way the company has treated us over the years. We have been the top-paid pilots in India, our layover allowances were the best among all airlines, we were accommodated at the best hotels… it is things like these that matter,” a senior Jet Airways pilot, who has been with the airline for more than a decade, had told The Indian Express last month.
On Wednesday, he said that a bulk of the pilots who have left have joined IndiGo. The pilot himself was in process of joining IndiGo or Vistara. A SpiceJet source said that about 30-40 pilots had joined the low-cost airline from Jet Airways.
While SpiceJet operates the same workhorse as Jet Airways – the Boeing 737 narrowbody aircraft – for IndiGo and Vistara the induction of pilots is expected to take five to six months, during which the pilots will have to go through simulator training and an examination by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to acquire the permit to fly the Airbus A320 family of aircraft that the two carriers operate. Alongside pilots, Jet’s cabin crew and ground staff are also being hired by various airlines.
For the government and the aviation regulator, a task has been cut out to ensure sufficient capacity and stable airfares. Only during April, fares increased by 19-36 per cent on average over the same period last year. Hours after Jet announced the suspension of operations, the Ministry of Civil Aviation said it will support the resolution process within the existing regulatory framework. In its first reaction on the latest Jet Airways development, the ministry also said that the DGCA and other regulators are monitoring the situation carefully to ensure that all existing rules regarding refunds, cancellations, and alternate bookings are followed strictly.
According to industry sources, more than Rs 3,500 crore has been pending in refund amounts with Jet Airways for flight cancellations. The airline said that its customers having prior bookings for flights after Wednesday can avail refunds as per established process. The ministry, in its reaction, also noted that civil aviation secretary will convene a meeting with airports and airlines on Thursday to coordinate and address any emerging issues on capacity, slots and passenger convenience.
For the banks, which have an exposure of around Rs 8,000 crore to Jet, the impact will depend on whether they are able to find a new investor for India’s oldest private airline that took to the skies on May 5, 1993.