- Pilots say they won't fly from April 1 if they're not paid their dues
- Hundreds of Jet pilots have reportedly approached other airlines for jobs
- Airline going through its worst crisis, has grounded most of its fleet
We try to forget the stress we are under when we enter the cockpit to fly, but we are only human beings - That is the message of senior Jet Airways commanders who haven't been paid in nearly four months at a time when the airline, one of the biggest aviation brands in India, appears to be descending into a free-fall given its dire financial state.
Jet Airways, which reportedly has a debt of a billion dollars, has failed to pay lenders and aircraft lessors and has grounded most of its fleet.
''We are also normal human beings. The stress levels will keep creeping up, how much ever we try and keep them behind. We try our best but this stress of salary unpaid is unwarranted and needs to be eliminated immediately'' says Captain Karan Chopra, a Boeing 777 commander at Jet with more than two decades of experience as a pilot.
In a letter to the Civil Aviation Minister, Suresh Prabhu, Captain Chopra, who heads the union representing pilots of Jet Airways was even more blunt.
''Stress in this section of employees can easily compromise safety and is not at all desirable in a profession that demands the highest levels of alertness and safety,'' he says.
For Jet Airways, the decision of its pilots to speak out in public could not have come at a worse time. There is no immediate clarity on whether a rescue deal involving the Middle Eastern carrier Etihad, the largest shareholder in the company, will work out. And it is still unclear if State Bank of India, which leads a group of lenders, will be able to find a way out in the immediate run.
According to reports, State Bank of India has asked the airline's chairman Naresh Goyal, his wife and two nominees to step down from the board of the airline with immediate effect. SBI chairman Rajnish Kumar said, ''We have been working on a resolution plan for the last five months. The resolution plan was almost ready, but because of certain issues there is some delay. We need a little bit more time."
But time is something the airline may not have. Pilots in the airline have made it clear that they will not fly from April 1 unless they are paid their dues.
''All the 1,100 members have decided unanimously to stop flying from the 1st of April if two demands we have (are not met). We want our salaries and we also want a clear road map. If these demands are not met, we will stop flying'' says Captain Asim Valiani, another senior Jet Airways Boeing 777 pilot.
Meanwhile, hundreds of pilots have reportedly approached other airlines for jobs. If Jet cannot retain its pilots, its long-term prospects will be bleaker.
''If the airline collapses, there will be close to 1500 pilots available in the market. And I don't think we have jobs for everyone. So everyone is trying to secure themselves. And I don't blame anyone for doing that,'' says Valiani.
The next few days will be critical for the future of the airlines. The Union for the pilots says there are families to be looked after - they cannot manage without their salaries.
''Solve the issues of the pilots. They are undergoing lots of hardships,'' says Captain Chopra.
''There are EMIs to be paid by the pilots. There are kids' education, ageing parents and hospital bills. Marriages have been postponed. Young First Officers have called me repeatedly and have said 'Sir, we have to pawn ornaments of our mothers. Please save us. Please urge the management to pay our salaries.''
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