Blood letting continues at Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines

The blood letting in the Indian aviation industry shows no signs of stopping.

After the much publicised sacking of 850 cabin crew early on October 15, Jet Airways announced the retrenchment of another 1,050 staff, which also includes flight crews. News reports indicate that another 1,000 jobs will be cut by the end of this year.

That will bring down the workforce at Jet by 23% from 13,000 to 10,000.

The retrenchments are not limited to people. Jet is returning 7 aircraft to its lessors, and its alliance partner Kingfisher is doing the same. Readers will recall, Kingfisher laid off about 300 employees less than a month ago. Observing the reaction to the Jet layoffs, they have decided to defer their layoffs for some time.

Private airlines really have no choice. Unlike, the over-bloated NACIL (Air India and Indian) who have a sugar daddy called the Government of India, whom they have already approached for another bailout of Rs. 2,000 Crore ($440 million), private airlines are at the mercy of the market. The situation at NACIL is thanks to the constant interference by all the politicians who treat the airline as their personal fiefdom to suck benefits and dispense patronage.

The $ 6 billion Indian aviation industry is facing losses of over 33% this year. An over greedy populist fuel policy of the Union and State Governments, and their controlled Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs), ensure that Indian airlines pay double the price for fuel when compared to the international market. (Read my previous article “Fuel Populism killing Indian aviation“).

Not that any of the airlines are themselves are blameless. Following a herd mentality, they rushed in and expanded blindly when oil prices were low. Following a ridiculous policy of trying to compete with the Indian Railways, they had absolutely no contingency plans when they were hit by the “Perfect Storm”, of diminishing demand and rising fuel prices.

Governments who are facing elections next year, have resorted to their age old tactics of populism on a grand scale. Thanks to the pay commission increase and farm loan waiver, just two of the many multi-billion dollar expenditure sprees, meant to “help get the votes”, the Finance Ministry has no manoeuvring room to accommodate the desperate and logical demands of both airlines and the Ministry of Civil Aviation to reduce the tax rates to a reasonable rate of 4%, uniformly across the nation.

The global meltdown of stock markets have not spared India either, forcing the Government to deploy what few resources are left to rescue the nation. Neither the public, nor the government, has the time, resources, or inclination to bail out the airlines.

The optimistic predictions by both Boeing and Airbus about the tremendous growth in India driving demand for their aircraft has hit ground reality with a thud. Officials of both manufacturers, are reportedly “concerned” about the near term outlook.

Airport operators across India, are facing a crisis. The need to recoup their investments and for that they need to fees. Airlines are major customers and cannot be touched. So the axe falls on you and me, the individual passenger to shell out “User Development Fee”, which further increases travel costs and drives passengers from the air to the trains, buses and cars.

All I can say is, “Stay Tuned, the worst is yet to come”.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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