Airline staffers' dreams come crashing down

October 16, 2009

New Delhi: Sanjay Wadhwa’s dream had the right ingredients, only his timing was wrong.
He wanted to be a pilot, like many of his generation who grew up in the Delhi of the early nineties. East-West Airlines had appeared on the horizon, Jet Airways was being launched and many other names such as ModiLuft dotted the private sector take-off path. And they all needed plenty of pilots, many times more than the handful that Indian flying schools churned out every year.
A decade and Rs 25 lakh later, Wadhwa is today a pilot without a flight plan. The 30-year-old is knocking on the doors of an aviation industry that is sinking steady with accumulated annual losses of Rs 10,000 crore.
Wadhwa is just one among the 4,000-odd unemployed commercial pilot licence (CPL) holders in India. Tariff wars, reckless expansion and a global financial slowdown that forced passengers to defer travel plans have grounded this once-sunrise sector where layoffs and employee strikes are the order of the day.
Wadhwa and his ilk now pin hopes on a government diktat to airliners to replace all foreign pilots – who make up 15-20% of all working pilots in India – by June 2010.
For airhostesses like Aditi Khedkar (name changed), fewer flights mean a change in the nature of duty. The 24-year-old Mumbai girl, employed with Kingfisher Airlines for a year, was told in August 2009 that she was being shifted to ground duty. And she quit.
India’s aviation sector, with 3 players operating full-service carriers and around 7 no-frill airlines, is harvesting the seeds of a doom it sowed during the boom years.
In the four years leading up to 2008, passenger traffic jumped by 25% every year, mainly thanks to a price war among carriers that was triggered by the entry of Air Deccan. The crew hiring peaked somewhere around 2007 and it continued till mid-2008 when Frankfinn alone placed 6,000 in cabin crew, ground staff, catering customer care et al in different airlines.
14/10/09 Shreya Biswas & Mahima Puri/Economic Times

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