Pilots are leaving cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines, which is battling a mountain of debt amid growing competition from nimble rivals, in droves, posing a human resource challenge in critical times. More than 75 of its estimated pilot count of 650 have quit in the last three months.
Such high levels of attrition, experts said, would not only impact the airline's future operations but reflected a lack of confidence among senior technical staff.
The Vijay Mallya-promoted airline, which is India's second largest carrier in terms of the number of passengers carried, has not made a profit since its inception in 2005 and posted a loss of Rs 1,027 crore in the year ended March 31. Its accumulated losses were more than Rs 4,300 crore at the end of the last financial year. Mallya announced last week that it would shut down its low-cost brand, Kingfisher Red, the former Air Deccan it acquired during a heady phase of growth.
Many of those who are quitting would be joining a rival low cost carrier, said company sources.
Aviation experts said the real impact of the resignations would play out two months from now when the notice period of the pilots who have quit starts getting over.
"Kingfisher's operations would be affected enormously when the new Flight Duty Time Limitation guidelines become effective in February 2012," said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, member of a government committee on aviation safety.
"Kingfisher is losing qualified and experienced crew ahead of the winter months when there are going to be delays due to fog and the crew would be stretched beyond normal limit," he said.
"Decisions made in the day-to-day running of the airline are not communicated, shared or discussed externally," Kingfisher said in a terse email reply to questions from HT.
"Pilots can happily ply their trade elsewhere with financially stable and faster growing airlines with better long-term career prospects," said Saj Ahmad, a London-based aviation analyst.
"Kingfisher has reduced fleet from 89 to 66 aircraft over the last 2-3 years and there is not much expansion but consolidation happening at the airline. This means some excess pilots exist with Kingfisher but 75 pilots leaving is a serious issue that could hurt future operations. More importantly, it reflects lack of confidence among the senior technical staff," said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO of Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, an aviation consultancy and research firm.
"Kingfisher's fleet must be shrinking and we could well be seeing order cancellations of the A380, A350 and A320s that the airline has yet to pay for and have delivered. With the Indian air transport market undergoing upheaval and changes, we shouldn't be surprised to see more engineers or flight crews leave Kingfisher," Ahmad said.
"Killing off the low-cost arm of its business is likely to fuel the exodus of experienced flight crews to other airlines," Ahmad added.