[Update: 16 September 2020]
The Singapore Airlines (SIA) Group’s trainee pilots and cabin crew are the latest to be affected in the company’s retrenchment exercise.
The airline has let go about half of its cadet pilots and cabin crew trainees, while the rest will leave after their training is completed.
Those who have had to abort training are mainly foreigners.
SIA said that it is “committed to supporting them [the remaining trainees] through their training programme,” but is unable to keep them due to the “surplus in staff numbers”.
It takes more than two years and costs around S$250,000 to train one pilot, while the programme for cabin crew lasts less than three months.
There are over 400 trainees at various stages of training.
SIA announced last week (September 10) that it will cut around 4,300 positions across its three airlines, Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot.
However, the number of employees affected may be cut down to 2,400 due to several measures.
For example, a “recruitment freeze” in March meant that many open vacancies were unfilled.
Furthermore, A Voluntary Release Scheme (VRS) was also offered to cabin crew who might have had personal reasons to leave the company.
“Collectively, these measures have allowed the Group to eliminate some 1,900 positions,” said the company.
As a result, the potential job cuts may be reduced to 2,400 in Singapore and across SIA’s overseas bases.
In a media release, the SIA Group said that it would work closely with the affected cabin crew to finalise the arrangements “as soon as possible for those affected” and try to “minimise the stress and anxiety” they face.
In a Facebook post, Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said the government would help support the staff affected by SIA’s job cuts.
He noted how the aviation sector had received the “strongest support from the government”, but the layoffs could not be prolonged anymore.
“SIA has also raised significant capital with the support of its majority shareholder. They have delayed this workforce reduction as long as they can, but with air travel decimated by COVID-19, this has unfortunately become inevitable,” said Mr Ong.
Operating At Under 50 Per Cent Of Capacity
In March this year, the airline said it would will operate only 50 per cent of its scheduled capacity up to the end of April.
It expects to continue operating at under 50 per cent of its capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels.
The airline noted that industry experts forecasted that passenger traffic would not return to what it was before until around 2024.
“Relative to most major airlines in the world, the SIA Group is in an even more vulnerable position as it does not have a domestic market that will be the first to see a recovery,” it said.
Indeed, Singapore’s small land area renders it unnecessary for the domestic flights that other airlines operate.
The Long Road To Recovery
Since March 2020, more than 6,000 of the 27,000 staff from the Singapore Airlines have taken up no-pay leaves.
The airline then said that it had been arranging temporary and secondary job placements for its staff.
This was part of the myriad of cost-cutting measures that the airline employed to stay afloat as the pandemic raged on.
In August, the group announced that all staff below the managerial level would receive a 10 per cent pay cut. Those with more senior positions received higher pay cuts, with the CEO getting his salary slashed by 35 per cent.
This year, the airline reported a record S$1.12 billion net loss in the first quarter.
It also spent half of the S$8.8 billion in share sales that it had raised, in two months.
SIA CEO Goh Choon Phong said in a message to his employees that “the road to recovery will be long and fraught with uncertainty”.
Having to let go of his employees was the “hardest and most agonising decision” he has had to make in his 30 years with the company.
Featured Image Credit: Anshuman Daga via Reuters