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BW Businessworld

Bailing Out In Distress

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The aviation industry in India is losing more than just money. With the industry showing no signs of revival and several airlines under severe financial stress, many talented and experienced people are exiting the sector altogether and looking for jobs in other sectors such as hospitality, retail, online travel and consultancy.

At the junior level, air hostesses, stewards and even ground staff have been forced to scout for employment in call centres and malls due to hardships caused by an extended "bad period" for the sector. Several former Kingfisher Airlines (KFA) employees, especially at the junior level, have left the airline due to non-payment of salaries. "Only some of them could be absorbed by rivals such as IndiGo and GoAir," says a senior KFA employee.

Many such employees have either been absorbed by other industries albeit at lower salaries or had to return to their hometowns.

The exodus is taking place at senior levels as well, since such  positions in rival carriers are hard to come by. While some senior employees have moved out as they could not find suitable alternatives within the industry, others have left because they do not expect the sector to recover soon.

One senior level exit has been that of Sujit Cherian, former chief financial officer of GoAir (he had spent 5 years with Jet Airways). Cherian has returned to a career in consultancy. More recently, M. Shivkumar, former head of finance at Jet Airways has moved to the Singhanias' Raymonds. Former GoAir CEO Kaushik Khona, who had ealier been with the Wadia group of companies, has joined a shipping company in Mumbai. Samyukth Sridharan, who was chief commercial officer at SpiceJet, quit some months ago and has joined travel company Cleartrip.











250 The number of former Kingfisher Airlines pilots that has been hired by IndiGo


Several former employees of GoAir — which has been losing senior officers in droves since November 2011 — have joined the hospitality industry. GoAir's former head of revenue, Kashyap Mansata, has joined the Taj group in Mumbai, for instance. Again, GoAir's former vice-president of HR, Atul Gawand, has moved to the IT sector.

A senior official of the civil aviation ministry said that many officials from private airlines have been looking for opportunities in other airlines. These included employees at senior and middle levels. Some have taken a sabbatical to explore alternatives within the aviation sector before venturing outside.

Airline sources said that many expatriates, too, were looking to exit. Two senior-level expat employees in Jet Airways — Steve Ramaiah, who headed cabin crew, and Jay Shelat, who headed cargo — had chosen not to renew their contracts.

Recently a chief manager with Air India, Sanjay Sharma, quit the airline to join Delhi-based real estate developer Ansal API, which took his friends and colleagues by surprise. "This is certainly uncommon because people rarely leave Air India since the job is both secure and cushy," says a former colleague of Sharma. 

But Sharma is not the only one to have done so. In the recent past, quite a few Air India pilots have joined rival carriers in India, the Gulf and Singapore. Similarly, close to 250 pilots from Kingfisher have joined IndiGo since trouble began at the former airline.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 30-07-2012)