COVID-19 Fallout: Air India Pilots' Unions Seek Urgent Financial Aid

by GoNews Desk 4 years ago Views 4425

COVID-19. Most World Airlines Will Be Bankrupt By
In a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri, two Air India pilots’ union — Indian Aviation Guild and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association — have sought urgent financial aid, citing their duties performed during the COVID-19 rescue operations.

"As you are fully aware, the outbreak of coronavirus is wreaking havoc across the globe. During this perilous time, Air India employees have gone above and beyond to get our countrymen back from Covid-19-affected countries worldwide…Air India has been in a debt trap for quite some time and this will hit the national carrier especially hard. Even now as we write to you, delays in our salary have been commonplace for more than a year. As of date, even January wages have not been paid in full," the letter read.” the pilots’ bodies said in the joint letter.

“On one hand the cabinet has openly praised the recent efforts of Air Indians and the national carrier but on the other, the government has not infused any funds. Our fundamental right to wages for work already done is being flouted time and again,” the letter read.

This repeated withholding of wages is straining us financially, said the pilots’ associations. “We urge you to provide urgent financial aid to Air India so that we, the airline's employees, can keep on doing our jobs and (continue) serving the nation,” the letter stated.

Meanwhile, global aviation consultancy firm CAPA (Center for Asia Pacific Aviation) has warned that by the end of May-2020, most airlines in the world will go bankrupt.

CAPA underlined that coordinated government and industry action is needed - now - if catastrophe is to be avoided.

The note goes on to say that "as the impact of the coronavirus and multiple government travel reactions sweep through our world, many airlines have probably already been driven into technical bankruptcy, or are at least substantially in breach of debt covenants".

Cash reserves are running down quickly as fleets are grounded and what flights there are operate much less than half full, it added.

Forward bookings are far outweighed by cancellations and each time there is a new government recommendation it is to discourage flying. Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon.

Governments are failing to cooperate  

At the same time, CAPA stated, while governments are grappling with the health challenges of coronavirus, it is clear that there is little instinct to act cooperatively. Messages are mixed and frequently quite different.

Each nation is adopting the solution that appears best suited to it, right or wrong, without consideration of its neighbours or trading partners.

"When, for example President Trump peremptorily announced the effective cancellation of airline access to most Europeans, he didn’t even advise his European government counterparts in advance, let alone consult with them. Other governments have performed little better".

National self-interest over cooperation is the evolving threat for aviation

The fear is that, as a collapsed airline system is reconstituted, similar national self-interest will prevail. That’s important because the aviation industry is about much more than airline health. It is crucial to global communications and trade.

It was because of aviation’s central role that the world’s governments convened in 1944 to establish a multilateral framework for post-war aviation. Notably, that was several months before the end of the second world war. A fully functioning airline system was considered essential to future world peace and prosperity and coordination was urgent.

At that time they did manage to establish a remarkable global safety regime, within the framework of the ICAO. But, even with a rosy view of aviation’s future role in a post-war world, it proved impossible for governments to extend beyond basic protectionism. The resulting system - now 75 years old – still reflects that archaic unilateralism.

Consequently, three quarters of a century on, it remains impossible for airlines to merge across national boundaries. Often provoked by unions in what is a heavily unionised industry, foreign ownership is strongly resisted and foreign airline operations within another country (“cabotage”) is globally proscribed.

The result has been a fragmented and largely unviable airline industry. Despite what are now clearly some brief recent profitable aberrations from the resulting fragility, little has changed.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world has moved from the Abacus to the Cloud.

Today, as we contest a world health war against the coronavirus, the government response has been fragmented – and is being resolved along national lines, with limited consultation.

As things stand, the likely tepid response to the airline crisis will equally be fragmented and nationally based. It will consist mostly of bailing out selected national airlines.

If that is the default position, emerging from the crisis will be like entering a brutal battlefield, littered with casualties.

The post-coronavirus world: a unique time for a new aviation beginning

The post-coronavirus chaos will alternatively offer a unique opportunity to reframe the foundations of a global airline industry. But is there a will to grasp that potential?

If the will is there, finding the right directions will require leadership and a recognition that there is no place for nationalist attitudes in this most international of all industries.

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