Pilots of Etihad-backed Jet Airways seek govt help to recover unpaid salaries

Jet has delayed payments to its pilots, suppliers and lessors for months and defaulted on loans after racking up more than $1bn in debt



Cash-strapped Indian carrier Jet Airways’ pilots union has for the first time sought government help to recover pending salaries and dues from the airline, saying pleas to management have fallen on deaf ears.

The National Aviators Guild, which represents the majority of Jet’s pilots, has written to India’s labour minister to ask for help in getting the airline to pay outstanding salaries and allowances immediately, plus interest.

“This situation is leading to extreme tension and frustration amongst our members, hardly an ideal situation for pilots in cockpit,” captain Karan Chopra, president of the union, said in the letter seen by Reuters and dated March 6.

Jet has delayed payments to its pilots, suppliers and lessors for months and defaulted on loans after racking up more than $1bn in debt. The airline is in talks with the country’s main state-backed banks for a rescue deal and emergency funds.

Last August the pilots were given a staggered schedule of payments for salaries but Jet has not kept up with them, the union said, adding that the airline still owes the pilots most of their salary for December and all of January and February.

Jet Airways issued a statement on Friday saying it has not received any such communication and remains committed to meet its salary obligations towards its employees and clearing all pending dues.

PLANES GROUNDED

Amid talks for a bailout led by state-run banks, lessors have forced the airline to ground at least 37 planes over non-payment of dues and some have also threatened repossession.

It had 556 flights on average in January, down from 641 a year earlier, data from the aviation regulator showed.

Jet has planned cancellations of more than 600 flights in March, said one source with direct knowledge of the matter.

Monday’s tally of about 330 flights compared with a daily average of nearly 650 in March 2018, a second source said, adding that short notice about grounded planes triggered many unplanned cancellations.

“The bigger worry is if people stop future bookings, because that will affect cash flows,” said the source, adding that cancellations in February and March outstripped prior months.

Jet Airways’ market share shrank to 14.3 per cent in 2018 from 17.2 per cent a year earlier, even as India’s aviation market grew nearly a fifth.