The Covid-19 led disruption in air travel caused over 39,000 job losses in the Indian aviation sector last summer, according to the civil aviation ministry.
The International Air Transport Association has called 2020 the worst year in history for air travel. Passenger demand plunged 66 per cent globally over 2019. In India too, domestic air traffic halved last year due to two months of lockdown and gradual lifting of restrictions.
This forced airlines to ground aircraft, pare their utilisation and defer deliveries, all of which resulted in reduced manpower requirements last year.
In response to a query from Rajya Sabha MP K C Venugopal, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said employee count in aviation sector reduced by 39,044 during April-September period. This includes airlines, airports, ground handling companies and cargo operators.
Among them, the highest impact was seen in employment at airports which shed 19,247 employees during this period. Workforce of ground handling companies and airlines shrunk by 12,981 and 6,981 respectively. Cargo business did not see an impact with a reduction in staff of 170 in four month period.
A senior executive from Mumbai International Airport Limited said there was no retrenchment of staff on airport operator’s rolls.
There was a reduction in work requirement of the contractual staff hired for housekeeping or trolley services but no sacking by the airport.
“Retail and food and beverage outlets have been impacted by travel disruptions and some of them have shut down. The job loss figure possibly includes their workforce too,” he said.
Government-owned Airport Authority of India and GMR executives too said they did not lay off staff during this period, an executive said.
The country’s largest domestic airline IndiGo slashed its workforce by ten per cent last year responding to travel disruption. IndiGo however is looking to rehire in next three months as it ramps up operations, chief executive officer Ronojoy Dutta had said in December.
All airlines cut staff salaries too to reduce their expenses while GoAir saw exits of several senior executives.
Sources said workforce requirement in aviation had reduced last year with reduction in flights. “Much of the work connected with handling of flights be it cleaning of aircraft, catering or other ground services are manpower intensive. International flights are still to resume fully and hence jobs would have been impacted. Governments and
aviation companies are now focusing more on technology and this could have further impact on hiring,” said an aviation expert.
“Unlike many countries, the aviation sector in India is still growing. As economic growth rebounds, industry estimates are that domestic travel will restore by the year end. As capacity utilisation and investment in transportation infrastructure ramps up, many of the jobs are expected to come back, but perhaps at lower pay scales,” said Sonal Agrawal, managing partner of executive search firm Accord India.