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Murky path in the direction of post-pandemic restoration for some Southeast Asian airways

BANGKOK: It has been greater than a 12 months since Captain Dejphon Poolpun final took to the skies.

The Thai Airways pilot has not obtained any flying allowance in any respect, whereas his fundamental wage was lower as the corporate suffered billions of losses.

The hiatus in flying has meant a whole change in his way of life. As of late, he spends a lot of his time within the kitchen of his Bangkok house, the place he bakes tray after tray of brownies for his on-line store Flying Sweets. The enterprise has discovered a large group of loyal clients. 

“Previously 12 months… I made greater than US$3,000 a month,” he informed CNA. “In sooner or later, I may promote 300 brownies when the enterprise was booming.”

As a result of pandemic, he misplaced 60 per cent of his wage as a pilot.

Captain Dejphon Poolpun makes brownies in his kitchen. (Photograph: Dejphon Poolpun)

Capt Dejphon’s circumstances usually are not distinctive for these within the aviation business. Throughout the area, many pilots and flight attendants have been laid off, whereas others are pressured to take substantial pay cuts. Many needed to complement their revenue by promoting meals or different items.

Whereas Capt Dejphon is likely one of the success tales of how airline workers have been in a position to adapt to the sudden downturn, there are those that needed to promote their homes and automobiles to repay their money owed.

In the meantime, airways proceed to undergo losses, forcing firms to downsize their fleet and workers and make drastic modifications to their enterprise methods.

Thai Airways, for instance, needed to file a enterprise reorganisation petition to the nation’s Central Chapter Court docket. In the meantime, others like Malaysia Airways and Garuda Indonesia have been engaged in negotiation processes with airplane leasing corporations and collectors to restructure their loans.

For some, there may be mild on the finish of the tunnel. Buoyed by the sturdy home market, Garuda Indonesia has mentioned that it may be on its solution to make a revenue this 12 months whereas pilots working for the airline mentioned that their workload and salaries are slowly returning to regular.

In the meantime, Thailand is hoping to regularly reopen some components of the nation to international guests in a bid to kickstart its tourism business, one of many nation’s fundamental financial sectors.

However the path to restoration continues to be murky, mentioned business gamers and analysts interviewed by CNA. A brand new wave of COVID-19 infections may power governments to convey again journey restrictions, cut back buyer confidence and derail plans to revive tourism.


The pandemic has precipitated a large drop within the variety of passengers worldwide and carriers from the area haven’t been spared.

In 2019, Garuda carried greater than 15 million passengers. Final 12 months, the determine fell to 2.8 million. In consequence, the corporate recorded a web lack of US$1.07 billion.

It was a devastating blow for the Indonesian flag service, which in 2019 reaped a revenue of US$122.4 million.

Due to the pandemic, Garuda determined to put off 700 everlasting workers and contract employees whereas 15,000 others have been pressured to take a pay lower of as much as 50 per cent. Garuda additionally liquidated six of its subsidiaries in a bid to streamline the corporate.

“The continued pandemic … had compelled the corporate to create a lot of changes,” Garuda CEO Irfan Setiaputra mentioned in a press release on Could 21. “Now we have to take these steps to outlive on this unsure time.”

(ks) Garuda Indonesia with face mask

President director and CEO of Garuda Indonesia Irfan Setiaputra subsequent to a Garuda Indonesia plane which has a particular masks livery on its nostril. (Photograph: Garuda Indonesia)

In lieu of a bailout, the Indonesian authorities agreed to buy US$600 million in newly issued bonds in November 2020, injecting recent capital to the ailing firm. On the time, Garuda already had unfavourable web working capital and had liabilities exceeding 80 per cent of its belongings.

Thai Airways encountered even larger losses. Though the corporate managed to hold 5.87 million passengers final 12 months, the determine was a 76 per cent drop from 2019. The dramatic loss in passengers was one of many explanation why Thai Airways recorded a web lack of US$4.5 billion.

READ: A brand new solution to fly? How COVID-19 accelerated modifications within the aviation sector

The pandemic-induced monetary woes pressured Thai Airways to file a enterprise reorganisation petition to the Central Chapter Court docket in Could final 12 months. In its petition, the flag service declared its debt to be value greater than US$11.3 billion, as of March 31, which exceeded its belongings.

Because the submission, the airline has carried out numerous measures to chop prices and enhance income. These embody downsizing headcount from 29,000 to between 14,000 and 15,000, decreasing the variety of plane in its fleet and asking workers to take go away with out pay.

In the meantime, in keeping with the corporate’s monetary statements, Thai Airways solely had US$278 million in money and money equivalents on the finish of 2020, in comparison with US$695 million the 12 months earlier than.

Thai Airways airplanes are parked at the tarmac of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok

File photograph of Thai Airways planes parked on the tarmac of Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photograph: REUTERS/Jorge Silva)

Bangkok-based aviation analyst Suwat Wattanapornprom of Asia Plus Securities mentioned Thai Airways’ money available may solely be sufficient to final the corporate till early 2022. This, he mentioned, may result in a liquidity situation as soon as the nation decides to reopen worldwide flights.

“By that point, when flights resume, Thai Airways could not have sufficient money available for the set-up. It’s because as soon as it begins the rehabilitation, it should cease paying the collectors. However this additionally means the corporate can be required to finish money transactions for every part when it flies to any nation,” Suwat informed CNA.

READ: Commentary – Airways have little selection however to not be airways for just a few years

Malaysia Airways may be going through an excellent trickier scenario.

The corporate has been recording losses for a decade, made worse by the dual tragedies of MH370’s disappearance and the MH17 shoot-down in Ukraine in 2014. The Malaysian flag service was subsequently privatised and brought over by sovereign wealth fund Khazanah Nasional.

Even earlier than the pandemic hit, Khazanah Nasional admitted that its try and turnaround Malaysia Airways Berhad was not on observe, in a report launched by the parliament’s Public Accounts Committee, regardless of pouring in a complete of US$1.5 billion.

When requested by CNA on how COVID-19 has affected passenger numbers, Malaysia Airways mentioned that these figures are confidential.

Nonetheless, the Malaysian Aviation Fee (MAVCOM) publishes a quarterly Waypoint Report on the nation’s aviation business. In December 2020, MAVCOM famous that each one Malaysian carriers, together with MAS, noticed their passenger visitors drop to almost zero within the second quarter of final 12 months. The full variety of passengers up till the third quarter is lower than 5 million. 

As for losses, Malaysia Airways has but to file its 2020 monetary statements with the Firms Fee of Malaysia. Its 2019 financials confirmed a income of RM9 billion however a web lack of RM923.79 million after tax.

The tail of a Malaysia Airlines aircraft is pictured at Kuala Lumpur International Airport

The tail of a Malaysia Airways plane is pictured on the tarmac at Kuala Lumpur Worldwide Airport in Sepang on Sep 7, 2020. (Photograph: AFP/Mohd Rasfan)

The pandemic prompted the corporate to introduce in depth wage cuts for the complete administration workforce and workers and no-pay go away as early as March 2020. Malaysia Airways said that regardless of the diminished demand of general capability, there have been no layoffs. 

Captain Izham Ismail, the chief government of Malaysia Airways’ mum or dad firm Malaysia Aviation Group’s (MAG) informed CNA in Could that the airways’ general passenger and fleet capability has been lower by 90 per cent since October 2020. He additionally mentioned in Could that he anticipated it to stay at that stage for the following six months.

Some excellent news emerged in late January 2021 as MAG obtained approval from the Excessive Court docket of England and Wales to convene a listening to with its collectors for a restructuring proposal.

This was later adopted by the court docket’s clearance for MAG to maneuver ahead with the restructuring scheme, which can see MAG’s sole shareholder Khazanah Nasional pumping in RM3.6 billion to fund MAG till 2025


A senior Garuda Indonesia pilot, Captain Muzaeni mentioned 2020 was the worst 12 months he had seen throughout his 32-year profession with the corporate.

“Our fundamental wage was lower by 30 per cent,” the 54-year-old pilot, who like many Indonesians goes with one title, informed CNA. “In the meantime, I used to be barred from flying as a result of the corporate thought-about senior pilots like myself to be extra inclined (to COVID-19) than youthful pilots.”

The ban meant that he was not incomes any flying allowances and bonuses, which he mentioned can account to anyplace from one fifth to a half of what a flight crew makes every month.

However even youthful pilots and flight attendants have been affected by diminished flight hours. “There have been instances after we wouldn’t fly for weeks,” he recounted.

READ: IN FOCUS – Indonesia’s journey to improved aviation security requirements

Capt Muzaeni mentioned he was lucky that he nonetheless earned sufficient cash to assist his household. “I didn’t have any instalments or loans to pay however lots of my friends did,” he mentioned.

“There have been many individuals who needed to promote their automobiles and even promote their homes and have to maneuver again to their dad and mom’ homes simply to get by. There have been many individuals who needed to begin a web based meals enterprise to complement their revenue as a result of they weren’t making sufficient cash.”

He mentioned the difficult situation lasted for just a few months in the course of the early days of the pandemic when the federal government imposed tight journey restrictions. However slowly, the travellers, particularly these on home routes, returned after the restrictions have been eased.

“By December our fundamental salaries have been restored again to the way in which they have been earlier than the pandemic. In the present day, nobody is pressured to promote meals or items on-line anymore,” he mentioned.

However pilots and flight attendants nonetheless face uncertainties concerning their flight time, which impacts bonuses and allowances.

Between Could 6 and Could 17, the Indonesian authorities imposed a good journey restriction to forestall thousands and thousands of individuals within the predominantly Muslim nation from heading to their hometown to have fun the most important Islamic vacation Idul Fitri.

The restriction precipitated all Indonesian airways to slash the variety of flights by 90 per cent, in keeping with figures from the Transportation Ministry.

“The situation continues to be unstable. Nobody is aware of for certain if or when these journey restrictions can be imposed once more,” Capt Muzeni mentioned.

And there have been measures by the corporate to chop down the variety of workers.

In a press release issued on Could 21, Garuda introduced that it’s providing an early retirement programme for volunteering workers.

The corporate’s CEO, Mr Setiaputra mentioned within the assertion that the early retirement programme is “the very best resolution that we are able to supply to workers within the midst of this pandemic scenario.”

In the meantime, Thai Airways has requested its workers to take go away with out pay to assist the corporate keep afloat. Capt Dejphon is likely one of the individuals who joined the programme.

“It may be 10 to fifteen days, relying on what we wish. Because the firm’s scenario isn’t so good, I attempt to take go away with out pay as a lot as I can, which is about 10 days. So, in whole greater than half of my revenue is gone,” he mentioned, including that he solely got here to work for flight simulator trainings. 

However Capt Dejphon mentioned that he has one thing to look ahead to. He’s scheduled to fly once more in October, when Thailand goals to reopen components of the nation for worldwide tourism.

Captain Dejphon Poolpun

Captain Dejphon Poolpun of Thai Airways Worldwide. (Photograph: Dejphon Poolpun)


Malaysia Airways’ CEO informed CNA that the corporate is embarking on a lot of cost-cutting measures which embody in search of fee deferrals and contract renegotiations.

“The group finally launched into a holistic restructuring of (Malaysia Airways’) stability sheet and value construction in September,” Capt Izham mentioned.

This restructuring train, he mentioned, helped cut back Malaysia Airways’ RM15 billion (US$3.6 billion) value of liabilities and eradicated RM10 billion in debt, together with RM5.7 billion in whole value financial savings and prices avoidance.

“RM510 million has been achieved in Q1 2021 in value financial savings and plane deferrals, and MAG is concentrating on one other RM1 billion by the tip of the 12 months” Capt Izham mentioned.

Izham Ismail MAS CEO

File photograph of Malaysia Airways’ CEO Izham Ismail. (Photograph: MAS) 

Within the meantime, in its place income stream, he mentioned, Malaysia Airways had began promoting its Enterprise Suite inflight merchandise, from cover units, pyjamas and amenity kits, in addition to the airline’s signature satay dish and salted peanuts.

The Malaysia Airways CEO mentioned the corporate is gearing up for a gradual restoration of its operations.

“We have been planning to deploy extra passenger and fleet capability within the first half of 2021, to succeed in 30 per cent of 2019 ranges, and 70 per cent by the second half,” he mentioned.

In the meantime in Thailand, the Central Chapter Court docket is anticipated to situation a ruling on Jun 15 on Thai Airways’ rehabilitation plan. The corporate has mentioned that the plan would allow the airline to generate revenue as soon as extra by 2023.

“Underneath the preliminary rehabilitation plan, the corporate would return to profitability via the standard operations of its fundamental enterprise in 2023 and its shareholders’ fairness would worth greater than zero in 2030,” mentioned its performing president Chansin Treenuchagron in a letter to the president of the Inventory Change of Thailand (SET) in March.

READ: Will air journey bubbles take off or burst? Do not pack your baggage but, consultants say

In the identical letter, Mr Chansin mentioned the corporate plans to restructure the corporate’s capital and debt, together with an incentive for collectors to trade debt for possession of the corporate.

Thai Airways additionally plans to function below a brand new imaginative and prescient, the place it repositions itself as “a non-public high-quality full-service service with a robust Thai model”.

Thailand Thai Airways

A buyer orders a meal at a flight-themed restaurant on the Thai Airways head workplace in Bangkok. (Photograph: AP/Sakchai Lalit)

Primarily based on the corporate’s assertion in March, it will embody redesigning its product to ship “a high-quality expertise” at a decrease value and unbundling fares in order that passengers can select to pay for what they need, similar to checked-in baggage and seat picks.

The airline additionally plans to optimise its routes by solely flying to worthwhile locations and restructure the organisation to an applicable measurement. It expects to slash about 50 per cent of its workforce in addition to change its leases and fleet.

Garuda Indonesia appears to be making the same transfer. In line with its September 2020 monetary report, the airline was working 210 plane in its fleet. The determine had been diminished to 142 not too long ago because it returned a few of its leased planes.

The airline is reportedly seeking to slash down its fleet much more and cut back the variety of airplanes to 70. The corporate has refused to touch upon the experiences.

With all these cost-cutting measures in place, Garuda has predicted that it’ll begin to flip a revenue by the tip of the 12 months.

In a letter to the Indonesian Inventory Change in February, the corporate highlighted that the variety of passengers had gone from a median of 150,000 passengers monthly in the course of the early days of the pandemic to round 1 million passengers a month in the direction of the tip of 2020.

Garuda hopes to hold round 7.5 million passengers this 12 months – about half of what it carried earlier than the pandemic – as the federal government regularly relaxes the nation’s journey restrictions.


In an April press launch, the Worldwide Air Transport Affiliation (IATA) mentioned it expects web airline business losses of US$47.7 billion in 2021, an enchancment over the estimated web business lack of US$126.4 billion in 2020. The affiliation added that it expects the aviation business to start to get well within the latter a part of this 12 months.

Regardless of some hope for a modest restoration, these interviewed by CNA mentioned many uncertainties stay.

Yeah Kim Leng, a professor of economics at Sunway College Enterprise College, famous that there was now some easing of pandemic-related turbulence for the airline business, as vaccines elevated in availability and journey restrictions have been eased in various levels.

“Nonetheless, darkish clouds nonetheless persist because of virus resurgence and vaccine provide shortages, however the airline business is seeing mild on the finish of the tunnel, though this may be longer in comparison with different industries hit by COVID-19,” Prof Yeah informed CNA.

Within the quick time period, the outlook for air journey within the ASEAN area, he mentioned, appeared difficult because of quarantine measures, restricted and even closed borders.

“On condition that the restoration in air journey is strongly tied to the comfort of COVID-19 journey restrictions, the regional carriers should be financially ready to face one other 12 months or two of working losses,” Prof Yeah added.

File photo of visitors looking at models of Boeing aircrafts at the Aviation Expo China, in Beijing

Guests have a look at fashions of Boeing aircrafts on the Aviation Expo China 2015, in Beijing, China, on this September 16, 2015 file photograph. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photograph

Jakarta-based aviation analyst Alvin Lie added that airways world wide have already finished what they might to mitigate the decline in passengers and steep monetary losses.

“Airways have been reducing again on their assets and providers, deciding on solely routes which make financial sense whereas branching out into different sectors like cargo. They’ve renegotiated their loans, tried to return leased planes, deferred funds to buyers and a few utilized for presidency bailouts. They’re now in a survival mode,” Mr Lie famous.

“The pandemic nevertheless meant that the situation is unstable. There might be extra journey restrictions sooner or later. This has a really enormous affect on an airline’s efficiency as a result of some airways depend upon peak seasons like Chinese language New Years and Idul Fitri, instances when these journey restrictions are normally in place.”

Mr Lie believed that there’s nothing extra an airline may do at this stage including that the onus is now on the governments to maintain the pandemic below management.

“Governments solely must mitigate COVID-19 nicely and accomplish that constantly. If they’ll handle the pandemic nicely, vacationers will come. However in as we speak’s situation, regardless of how a lot promotion an airline does, nobody will come,” he mentioned.

COVID-19 have modified the way in which individuals journey, socialise and work together and Mr Lie believed that a few of these modifications are right here to remain, even after the pandemic is over.

“Folks now realise that in some circumstances, we needn’t meet face-to-face. We are able to do issues faster and extra effectively by assembly on-line with out sacrificing high quality and effectiveness,” he mentioned. 

“Folks will nonetheless journey. People are social creatures in spite of everything. They should meet family members. They should go on vacation. However for enterprise journey, the sample is altering and airways need to be prepared for these modifications.”

Thai Airways’ Capt Dejphon mentioned that he welcomes the potential modifications in airways tradition and mindsets led to by the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has introduced a great alternative,” he mentioned. “It’s like performing surgical procedure on a affected person – function on the organisation, take away the outdated system and have a recent begin.”

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