Customers, and 20,000 staffers, the big losers in Jet's scramble to fly

Last Updated: Wed, Apr 17, 2019 21:03 hrs
Save Jet Airways (Image Courtesy: IANS)

The future for staff at Jet Airways is in the dark. On Tuesday, a a section of the 20,000 employees held placards showing their plight. The situation is grim considering many employees haven't been paid salaries for at least three months. Jet is unable to run its daily operations, and this has forced cancellations of several flights.

Customers, many of who had made advance flight bookings have to scramble for alternate options. Returns are taking time, and with rival operators increasing travel costs, customers are getting squeezed.

Staff sentiment for crisis-hit Jet Airways has hit its lowest even as reports signal an end to Naresh Goyal's aviation venture.

On Wednesday, amid reports that signalled an abrupt end to operations, Jet management was quoted telling lenders to release Rs 400 crores out of the Rs 1500 crores that had been earmarked for interim funding.

There are no clear signs that interim funds spoken about in hush-hush circles in the past fortnight are coming. The only communication that has been ongoing is of flights being cancelled and operations being shut imminent. Tough times lie ahead for the company's staff.

In an IANS story, an engineer was quoted as saying, "We are going to approach the Labour Commissioner for recovering our dues. We can no longer hold on any further." This engineer had taken a loan against his LIC policy to meet his daily expenses.

There are also reports that a hundred odd pilots were planning on moving away from Jet Airways because they believed that the company may not get to fly anymore.

With all the negative news, there have been a section of employees who are willing to shift to rival airlines in pursuit of a job. Technical personnel are rushing to bag jobs from IndiGo as well as GoAir. Non-technical staff, however are bracing for tough days ahead with pilots and engineers taking pay-cuts as heavy as 30-50% for a job.

"We are unlikely to get our dues from the airline. The future remains bleak. The only ray of hope is that the traffic growth continues which means job opportunities would come," an executive was quoted as saying in an IANS story.

Captain Asim Valiani, Vice President, National Aviator's Guild (NAG), said that employees of all rank and file were facing financial hardship.

"We are not sure how to tide over this financial stress. Children's education, EMIs and even mediclaims are at stake. Not to mention losing four months' pay, bonus and gratuity," Valiani said.

The Jet employees know that the industry does not have the capacity to absorb all of them.

"Many pilots and (executives in) other ranks will be jobless. The future of 20,000 employees is in jeopardy," the Captain noted.

Meanwhile, Jet's shares have been crashing ever since the early signs of a financial debacle were reported. The stock's 52 week high of 650.50 wa recorded on 30th April 2018. A year later, the stock has crashed by a huge margin. On Tuesday, post end of trading hours, the stock was quoting a price of 241.85 per share on the Bombay Stock Exchange, down by 7.62% in intra-day trading.

A CNBC TV18 report on Tuesday claimed that the airline could temporarily shut down its operations. The Bombay Stock Exchange has asked for an official reply from the company. It had been reported that the Jet management had proposed to shut down operations since it had no money to pay to fuel companies. The damage by such reports is not on the stock front alone, but also customers and other aviation companies.

Jet's recent financial distress has affected customers the most. Last November, Jet was reportedly operating 124 fleets, and as on date it has gone down to barely 5 ATRs and one Boeing 737. Each aviation company has a set of slots to fly. In recent times, Jet's announcements of cancelling flights have caused customers tremendous stress. It has also jacked up prices.

Cancellations also mean that the other aviation companies have to re-distribute time slots, and plan additional aircrafts to manage the rising demand.

It is said that Jet is refuelling flights on a daily basis and had been struggling to make those pay-outs. With debts reportedly soaring Rs 8500 crores, and Rs 3500 crores owed to lessors and vendors, an immediate cash-funding is the need for Jet. CEO Vinay Dube had appealed banks to fund Rs 1000 crores as an emergency infusion at the start of the week. Interim funds, however are yet to arrive and it is reported that banks are asking for collaterals including planes owned by Jet Air.

Eyes were fixed for the outcome of a bidding process managed by SBI caps. The bidding was expected to generate funds for Jet as well as help existing lenders. Existing lenders include IDBI Bank, Syndicate Bank, Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Canara Bank, Yes Bank, Indian Overseas Bank, Punjab National bank. These banks have been lead by State Bank of India.

Reports say that prospective investors have objected to Goyal's entry in the bidding process. Former rival Vijay Mallya on Wednesday expressed his solidarity with Goyal. In a series of tweets, the former liquor baron felt sorry to see Jet on the brink of failure. He also said that being a private airline was no excuse from getting funds from the government. Meanwhile, as lenders and Jet management haggle over funds and operations, the real losers seem to be the employees and customers. Flight cancellations and the associated process of seeking refunds or making alternate flying arrangements have turned life miserable for the average customer.

According to most latest news reports, Jet Airways will be operating its last flight on Wednesday.

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