Warren Buffett has dumped his entire stake in airlines. Of the pandemic’s blow to air travel, the successful investor said that there was no joy in managing those companies right now. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released its financial outlook for the global air transport industry in 2020. The bad news? Airlines are expected to lose a whooping $84.3 billion this year. Aviation workers are suffering.
Airlines globally are doing what they can to stay afloat. Tough. In Singapore, more than 6,000 of the 27,000 staff from the Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group have gone on no-pay leave. The SIA Group comprises SIA, regional arm SilkAir and budget carrier Scoot. The 2020 second-half outlook for Singapore’s aviation sector has gone from bad to worse.
The silver lining? Much effort has been carried out to arrange temporary and secondary job placements for its staff. More than 1,700 employees, including ground staff, pilots and cabin crew, have signed up for volunteer positions and jobs in external organisations.
Many of their crew have also volunteered with various roles within the company. Others have taken on ambassador roles and opportunities at public transport stations, social service offices and hospitals.
Unfortunately, the pandemic is showing no signs of letting up. SIA Group has introduced several cost-cutting measures by allowing staff to seek secondary employment and offering early retirement/release schemes with payouts and benefits.
With the help from Temasek and the Government’s Jobs Support Scheme, the group has managed to hold off job cuts to date. Whether eventual job cuts can be avoided is another question. To put things into context, they have recently reported a $1.12 billion net loss in the quarter ended June 30. This is its largest quarterly loss on record as overall passenger carriage fell 99.5%.
For the foreseeable future, air travel demand is unlikely to rise significantly if at all. Yet, an extended period of flight restrictions will be painful. Airlines are extremely overstaffed for current demand levels eventual job cuts seem inevitable.
Support for flying crew members
Many airlines have leveraged the downtime to schedule staff for training courses. This is key to strengthening their readiness to bounce back when the industry recovers.
The NTUC Aerospace and Aviation (A&A) cluster together with affiliated unions has been working closely with management partners in supporting their flying crew through job matching opportunities and helping them to make use of the downtime to upskill and reskill from the start of the pandemic. With the assistance of the airline and unions, more than 8,000 flying crew members have benefited from skills training in the past four months.
Working closely with the Labour Movement and employers, NTUC LearningHub has also helped aviation workers and companies build their resilience by gaining new skills.
The A&A cluster has also worked with NTUC’s e2i to help Jetstar Asia in identifying secondary job opportunities for its crew. For example, some crew members have been temporarily placed with employers such as FairPrice, and Gong Cha.
For eligible crew members facing immediate financial woes, they have been directed to assistance schemes like the Temporary Relief Fund. About 850 crew members have also tapped on the NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19).
No Magical Relief
The truth is, there is no playbook for a magical relief from the pandemic. For the Aviation industry, it ultimately depends on how the Covid-19 situation evolves. It’s hard to predict how long it will take for the situation to recover.
How can industry players gain a better fighting chance in the new post-pandemic world? The best bet is to continue to invest in staff upskilling, digitalisation and automation technologies where possible.