Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport. Photo: AFP

The Indian government permitted the resumption of domestic flights on May 25, after a imposing a two-month countrywide lockdown to contain the spread of Covid-19, but the aviation industry is still not out of the woods.

Initially, the airlines were operating only a third of their summer schedule flights. But a month after the resumption of service, the Civil Aviation Ministry allowed the airlines to increase it to 45%. However, airlines are still operating below 33%; passenger loads are still between 55% and 60%. In addition, the abrupt lockdown rule changes implemented by state governments are impacting schedules, leading to flight cancellations.

Hence, to conserve cash many of them are now resorting to pay cuts, unpaid leave and even layoffs. IndiGo, India’s largest domestic carrier, announced on Tuesday that starting in July, pilots will have to take an additional 5.5 days of compulsory leave without pay per month. In May the airline made pilots take one to five days of leave without pay, effectively taking the total number of days without pay to 10.

In a statement, the airline said, “IndiGo was one of the few airlines globally to give out full salaries in the months of March and April, despite business disruption. We employed the first pay cut in May, followed by leave without pay. Given the current capacity utilization, we have had to announce further leave without pay for pilots, which is a temporary measure,” Business Standard reports.

In addition, the airline is also not renewing the contracts of some of its cabin crew members, Moneycontrol.com reports, quoting sources. It added that some of the ground staff have also lost jobs. These employees were told to undergo tests, and those scoring below the threshold were asked to go.

Tata-owned Vistara has initiated 5-20% pay cuts for 60% of its staff and reduced the base flying allowance for pilots from 70 hours to 20 hours till December. In an email, the management informed the staff that the airline was now operating at less than 30% of its original network capacity and the passenger loads are not as high as they were before the lockdown. CEO Leslie Thng will take a cut of 20% while other employees will take 5-15% cuts, depending upon seniority and pay scale.

AirAsia India has slashed pilot salaries by 40% for May and June and it will extend to July, said a senior executive. GoAir has given leaves without pay to 90% of its staff and this will be extended to July, said an airline executive. No-frills carrier SpiceJet has also cut domestic and international layover allowances for its pilots.

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