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Hard Times: Bristow Helicopters, Air Peace Sack Scores of Pilots and Engineers, Announce Salary Cuts for Others

Hundreds of pilots and engineers working for two major players in the nation’s aviation sector, Air Peace and Bristow Helicopters have lost their jobs as the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic bites harder, especially for operators in the airline industry.

A statement issued by Air Peace announced that the decision was taken for the “greater good of the company” and the thousands of employees on its payroll, including the pilots who were affected.

About 70 pilots were affected by the restructuring, AFP reported citing industry sources. The salary cuts, meanwhile, vary from 0-40 percent depending on the salary grades of the staff.

“The airline cannot afford to toe the path of being unable to continue to fulfill its financial obligations to its staff, external vendors, aviation agencies, maintenance organisations, insurance companies, banks and other creditors,” the statement read in part.

“Hence, the decision to restructure its entire operations with a view to surviving the times,” it added.

The airline also noted that the prevailing situation with the pandemic made it “impossible” for airlines to continue operating without any internal cost restructuring.

“Anything short of what we have done may lead to the collapse of an airline as could be seen in some places worldwide during this period.”

“Even after the cuts, it was obvious that for us to be able to sustain our operations and survive the times, some jobs must inevitably have to go,” it added.

The airline pointed out that the pilots were free to return and apply for employment, if they wished to do so, once the situation normalized.

Air Peace, headquartered in the commercial capital, Lagos, flies to major cities in Nigeria, West Africa and in the Middle East.

On the other hand, the management of Bristow Helicopters has laid off more than 100 pilots and engineers due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business.

In a press release on Tuesday, the company said although the decision is painful, the move was inevitable in order to ensure the continuity of its business and delivery of essential services to its customers.

“This decision has not been made lightly, but having considered the state of the business and the very serious constraints caused by the spread of COVID-19 and the downturn in the oil and gas market, the company must now take this painful, but decisive step to ensure the continuity of its business and delivery of essential services to its clients,” the statement read.

“One of these measures includes the right-sizing of the business to ensure that the company has the optimal level of personnel to continue the safe delivery of its services to its clients, whilst allowing the appropriate capacity for future growth.

“Accordingly, and with much regret, the company has taken the very difficult decision to release over 100 pilots and engineers (both national and expatriates) over the next couple of weeks.”

Bristow, however, said it has engaged the leadership of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE) to negotiate fair and equitable compensation for the affected individuals.

The company added that in compliance with the terms of employment, the affected individuals will be paid three months’ salary (excluding applicable deductions) following their exit from the company.

Domestic flights in Nigeria resumed last month after suspension in March as the economy and businesses try to regain a foothold following a tumultuous few months.

Nigeria’s airports, however, remain closed to all international commercial flights with the exception of passenger flights which evacuate people or repatriate Nigerian citizens. Flights for essential services, such as the delivery of food supplies and items for humanitarian use, are also allowed to operate.

The aviation industry in Nigeria like many others across the continent has been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of employees have been sent on unpaid leave, retrenched or had their salaries reduced to cope with the devastating effects.