As Pandemic Forces Layoffs in Aviation Sector

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By Chinedu Eze

It was predicted. Industry stakeholders knew that without earning revenues for months, airlines would not have operational funds to maintain the pre-COVID-19 status when they resume service.

That was why insightful governments provided bailouts and palliatives to their airlines. The economic meltdown occasioned by Coronavirus lockdown was global and aviation was the most affected.

But despite the bailout, airlines are forced to streamline their operations because, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), as far as COVID-19 still continues to be a threat, passenger traffic would be low for a long time; until vaccine is developed and distributed to the ends of the world so that everyone could access it.

All major carriers in the world have laid off personnel, engaged in salary cuts and some have applied for bankruptcy.

Nigerians were agitated on Monday when the country’s biggest carrier, Air Peace confirmed that it laid off 69 pilots in the process of restructuring the company for post-COVID-19 operations, stressing that the most important thing was to ensure the survival of the airline so that it could still engage those laid off today in future.

“This decision was taken for the greater good of the company and its almost 3000 workforce, the affected pilots inclusive. The airline cannot afford to toe the path of being unable to continue to fulfill its financial obligations to its staff, external vendors, aviation agencies, maintenance organisations, insurance companies, banks and other creditors hence the decision to restructure its entire operations with a view to surviving the times.

“The pandemic has hit every airline worldwide so badly that it has become very impossible for airlines to remain afloat without carrying out internal restructuring of their costs. Anything short of what we have done may lead to the collapse of an airline as could be seen in some places worldwide during this period.

“Therefore, we decided to review the salaries being paid to all staff. The new salaries reflect a 0%-40% cut of the former salary depending on the salary grades of every staff. Even after the cuts, it was obvious that for us to be able to sustain our operations and survive the times, some jobs must inevitably have to go,” Air Peace said in a statement signed by its spokesman, Stanley Olisa.

Seemingly peeved by the action of the union, the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), which obstructed its operations on Monday over alleged discriminatory treatment against Nigerian employees, Bristow Helicopters on Tuesday announced the sack of over 100 pilots and engineers.

The company in a statement signed by the management said, “The spread of the Covid-19 virus has severely impacted all sectors in the aviation industry, including our market, which primarily serves the Nigerian oil and gas sector.

In addition, the ongoing downturn in the global oil and gas market continues to influence and determine the demand for our services.

“The combined effects of these ‘arisings’ has resulted in very significant reductions to our business particularly a reduction in the number of contracted aircraft in Nigeria. As a result, the company must now restructure all aspects of its business.”

The Accountable Manager of Dana Air, Obi Mbanuzuo and the Managing Director of Aero Contractors, Captain Ado Sanusi, told THISDAY that if government had provided the promised palliatives it would help airlines to retain their staff, noting that what should be critical to government is that more Nigerians are not sent to the job market, which is already saturated, but the airlines may not have any other choice than to streamline their workforce in order to survive.

Reacting to the sack of pilots and engineers by Bristow, Secretary of the industry think-tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART) and Chief Executive of Centurion Securities, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) excoriated labour for grounding the operations of the company at the critical moment the aviation industry is gravely under threat of survival.

“It’s very unfortunate that we allow the labour unions to be obstructing the commercial operations of the regulated operators and I would blame the NCAA (the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority) for this development only if I can be proved wrong that what we are seeing happening to the regulated operators now is caused mainly by the Covid19 Pandemic.

“Before the pandemic, we have witnessed the disruptions or the threats to operations of operators from Bicourtney Aviation Services Limited (MMA2), Caverton, etc, even lately to government operators (Arik Air) and you begin to wonder if the unions have become regulators of the industry.

“If the NCAA oversight functions on the operators’ compliance to the economic regulations have been effective and efficient, I do not think the bickering we see between the workers and their employers would be so incessant,” Ojikutu said.