Merger pangs: Vistara gives ultimatum to pilots over new pay

First Officers expect a pay cut of over 50%, flag training loans they owe airline as complication

March 15, 2024 09:01 pm | Updated 09:17 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Vistara issued an ultimatum to its pilots on Friday, hours before a deadline to accept a new pay structure ahead of its merger with Air India that could result in a pay cut of more than 50% for some, warning that failure to sign on could lead to their exclusion from the integrated airline.

On Friday morning, Vistara’s Human Resources department sent a mail to its pilots reminding them that it was the last day for them to accept the new pay structure, failing which pilots risked losing a one time pay-out, their place in the sequence for upgrade, and their elimination from the merged entity.

Pilots, particularly First Officers, had demanded an extension of deadline after a heated exchange during an online meeting with the HR on Thursday was called to seek clarity.

The First Officers claim that the new salary structure, which offers 40 hours of minimum guaranteed flying to all pilots instead of the current 70 hours, results in an almost 57% pay cut. They also claim that under the new terms they have to fly for up to 76 hours to earn what they were drawing at 70 hours earlier, and this at a time when Vistara’s flight operations are expected to reduce as aircraft are shifted to Air India and Air India Express.

On the other hand, Captains and Senior Captains would only have to fly 52-55 hours and 55-60 hours, respectively, to earn the salary they were getting for 70 hours of minimum flying.

“After an employee is hired, the conditions of employment can’t be changed to his or her disadvantage,” said aviation lawyer Yeshwanth Shenoy. “This means that any bonds signed by pilots, along with undated cheques, in lieu of training, will be invalid,” he observed. The airline had not responded to questions e-mailed to it, till the time of going to press.

Pilots have also informed HR that up to 60 of them have signed a bond with the airline, after being shifted from AirAsia India, against a training loan of ₹9 lakh which they contend they would be unable to repay after the pay cut that would effectively amount to 57%.

Sources say Vistara plans to cut flight operations to half by June and cease all independent operations by October as part of the integration process with Air India.

There are also apprehensions among First Officers over their transition to widebody aircraft from the current narrowbody Airbus A320, which they feel could delay their upgrade to the post of a Captain by three to four years and impact their remuneration.

Vistara plans to conclude the integration process by mid-2025. The Competition and Consumer Commission of Singapore recently gave its conditional approval for Vistara’s merger with Air India, in which Singapore Airlines would hold a 25.1% stake. The Competition Commission of India granted its approval in September. The airline will also have to seek a nod from the National Company Law Tribunal.

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