Airline pilots make a beeline for Akasa, Jet Airways 2.0

As Akasa, the ultra-low cost airline backed by investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, prepares to take to the skies and Jet Airways attempts a comeback, they are seeking to hire pilots and other staff. Established rivals IndiGo and SpiceJet are the likely hunting grounds, industry executives and observers said.
Both IndiGo and SpiceJet denied any departures of their employees. Akasa said it was premature to comment and Jet Airways did not respond to queries from Moneycontrol.
Akasa should start operations in financial year 2022-23 and Jet Airways 2.0 is likely to start in the second quarter of the year (July-Semptember), reckons Kapil Kaul, chief executive, India subcontinent, Center for Asia Pacific Aviation .
In a year that will elevate competition in the industry, Tata Sons Ltd, meanwhile, is readying to take the helm of Air India.
India has about 17,000 pilots. It’s the first time in one-and-a-half decades, when aviation was in a boom phase, that pilots are expected to be in such high demand.
If Kaul is right about the timelines for the launch of Akasa and Jet 2.0, the two airlines will need to get their personnel, primarily pilots and cabin crew, in place.
The sheer numbers can be daunting. For instance, industry standards stipulate that there should be one cabin crew for every door in an aircraft. So a Boeing 737 MAX requires at least four cabin crew because it has four doors.
Akasa, which has ordered 72 MAX aircraft, will require at least 288 cabin crew members although the number is likely to be more because the airline will also need to provide for back-up in case one crew member is indisposed. To be sure, the airline will not require so many at one go because the aircraft will be delivered in phases; Akasa is yet to announce how many aircraft it plans to start operations with and how many it plans to induct annually.
Hiring fresh people is one option for the two airlines while getting those working with rivals to switch is another and, according to industry watchers, IndiGo and SpiceJet are emerging as the favourite poaching grounds for recruiting pilots and other crew members.
Understandably, the two airlines do not want to admit this on record, but those from the industry say the movement of pilots and crew has already started from both IndiGo and SpiceJet.
While many employees of the existing airlines have been contacted by Akasa and Jet Airways, offer letters have only been made to a handful so far, people with knowledge of the development said.
Akasa is said to be offering what will eventually work out to be a compensation of about Rs 1 crore for pilots who are so-called Designated Examiners (DEs) or examiners. A DE is a senior pilot capable of carrying out various checks on other pilots to keep their flying licenses valid.
On average, the joining salary for a pilot ranges from ₹80,000 to ₹1.2 lakh a month and can go up to ₹6 lakh. Every additional qualification that a pilot gets while flying adds to his or her earnings.
Industry executives aware of the development say that a headhunter is in touch with senior employees of existing airlines, making them job offers. A pilot said several SpiceJet pilots had left while some were serving out their notice period before joining the start-up airline.
“It is not surprising if pilots leave SpiceJet to join Akasa especially those who have not been paid their full dues. After all both airlines have the Boeing 737 MAX,” said a senior executive at an airline on condition of anonymity.
Akasa will start taking delivery of the 72 MAX aircraft it has ordered from Boeing in mid-2022.
To be sure, it is difficult to put an exact figure on the number of pilots and crew who are leaving their current employers to join Akasa and Jet 2.0.
The number of pilots leaving the two airlines to join Akasa and Jet 2.0 will become clearer once the new Operator’s Operation Manual is approved; these pilots will have to undergo an operator’s conversion course and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation will need to be informed.
Both IndiGo and SpiceJet denied their staff were leaving.
24/12/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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