Phub Dem | Paro

After struggling for months, the airline industry around the globe is laying thousands of employees in the wake of the novel coronavirus. The two airline companies in the country—Drukair and Bhutan Airlines—despite the difficult circumstances haven’t laid off a single employee so far.

With their planes nearly grounded by the Covid-19, the only private airline is suffering massive losses, which has compelled the management to explore ways to redeploy its employees.

Tashi Air, the private airline trading as Bhutan Airlines is redeploying its employees to work in other companies of the Tashi Group of Companies.

Of the 203 staff, in the first phase, the company is redeploying 38 employees.

Bhutan Airlines Chief Executive Officer Phala Dorji said the redeployed employees would be provided with free food, lodging and regular pay.

He said that the chairman was considering every alternative in retaining the employees during the crisis. However, about 40 foreign employees working in India, Thailand and Nepal were sent on leave without pay.

With its flight grounded for months and zero revenue, the company is facing difficulty having to pay rent for the leased planes, operate five stations, and with substantial overhead costs.

Phala Dorji said that with no revenue as business was at a standstill, there were no other options to pay the employees other than redeploying. “If the employees do not want to take part in the redeployment scheme, there is no other option to retain them.”

Besides, he also said, when the situation returns to normal, the company would call back the experienced and trained employees gradually.

“Grounded planes aren’t making money while maintaining and repairing them comes with a hefty cost.”

Keeping aside the fixed costs, he said that the spear parts of the airbus have to be changed timely along with its regular maintenance.

He said that the company had requested a discount on the monthly cost of leased planes. “Although we want to return the plane, it is impossible due to fixed agreements.”

Had there been no regulation regarding the accountable post holders, Phala Dorji said that he would go for leave without pay. “However, doing so is against the regulation. It is only possible if the airline is shutting down.”

He added that it was time for the employees to come together and provide solidarity support to the company. “Work is different in other companies, but we should be thankful for the alternative solution.”

The airline business, according to Phala Dorji, is badly affected with only one or two cargo flights a month. “However, these flights also come with parking, aeronautical and navigation charges.”

With booking refunds amounting to millions, the company is yet to repay the cancellation costs. “With support from the banks and the chairman, we are repaying the refunds at the earliest.”

Although the company is running into loss, Drukair – a part of Druk Holding and Investments company- hasn’t laid off any employees or slashed salaries.

Drukair’s CEO Tandi Wangchuk said that the company had, however, stopped new recruitments.

He said that the company had already given a three-month notice to the expatriate pilots if the situation doesn’t improve.