The very profession of a pilot in Russia was also under threat.
"Novye Izvestiya" talked about topical problems of Russian aviation with the honored test pilot, Hero of Russia Alexander Garnayev.
- Alexander Yuryevich, the number of flights over the past few months has dropped sharply. What are the implications for pilots? How many will become unemployed?
- No, the flight crew is not fired, the remaining load is distributed proportionally - they smear the plaque with a thin layer, as they say. In Aeroflot, in all large companies, their "daughters" have such a rule. This is a strict instruction from the flight operations manual. The pilots who are on the staff should fly approximately equally, which is, in principle, justified in civil aviation. How much is that from what it was? The norm was eighty hours a month, by agreement of the parties it was possible to increase the number of hours to ninety. Now about half of the norm remains.
- Well, it turns out that the work of the pilots was saved. But if the norm is not met, does income fall?
- Yes, the salary of civilian pilots is calculated based on the norm-hour. Between the raid and income there is almost a direct relationship. There are small bonuses, but this is a small part. Accordingly, if they began to fly half as much, then they began to receive too - half as much.
- Can you reveal how much the pilots received on average before the start of the special operation?
- To assess the situation objectively, it is necessary to compare not with January 2022, but with the period before the pandemic, that is, with January 2020. During the pandemic, prices have changed, an hour of flight has become cheaper. At the same time, in different companies, with the same wages for pilots, they fell in different ways, even if the raid was the same. Wages at Aeroflot have fallen sharply. Now this fallen one has halved again. Pilots have a lot of problems...
Long before the pandemic, since 2008-2009, our pilots have been flying abroad a lot. These times lasted for a whole decade. Then the cost of a flight hour was the subject of bargaining between the pilot and the company. Pilots were often unhappy, employers tried to squeeze them. The disputes of that period are the indexation of wages to a freely convertible currency. We were guided by the fact that the salary of the crew commander in the performance of the flight norm should be approximately equal to 10 thousand dollars. Co-pilots receive different amounts in different companies, but less than crew commanders, as a rule, this is about 70% of the commander's salary.
Thus, all changes in pay regulations revolved around this figure - 10 thousand dollars. The salary of Russian pilots was comparable to that of European airlines. Developing companies in Asian countries interested in expats bought up the pilots, offering twice as much.
Such amounts were indeed received by commanders who worked with full dedication and fulfilled all plans.
The dollar exchange rate changed, payment in rubles changed. So they lived until the pandemic times, then everything collapsed sharply. After the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the industry began to recover. Now, in connection with the special operation, a new collapse.
- What is happening in Russian airlines today?
- Every company has a different situation. Ural Airlines, Aeroflot, S7, their subsidiaries, Globus, Rossiya declare that they support their flight crew. They support it, but the salary has decreased significantly. During the pandemic, as already mentioned, prices were reduced, and now the raid has also collapsed.
But the trouble is no longer hidden unemployment, but explicit.
A large number of airlines, both passenger and cargo carriers, have completely closed.
From the passenger side, Royal Flite (Abakan Avia) stopped its activities, from the cargo side - AirBridgeCargo, the largest Russian cargo airline, which is part of the Volga-Dnepr Group of Companies.
Royal Flite did not have its own aircraft or leased ones, like Aeroflot did. The difference is that Aeroflot, for example, can negotiate and buy the ships from the lessor. At Royal Flite, all aircraft were in operational subleasing, in which it is impossible to agree with anyone and, accordingly, there is nothing to fly on.
AirBridgeCargo carried out the transportation of goods over a vast air bridge with a huge cargo flow, for example, from Shanghai to Europe. Russian airfields were used only for refueling. Of course, this business also ended. It is unprofitable for them to engage in small cargo flows. The company simply fired all the pilots.
- How many pilots are there in Russia? How many are out of work - covertly and openly?
- Before the pandemic, there were about 15,000 pilots in Russia. During the pandemic, their number began to decline, because they stopped hiring young people. A huge number of young pilots, graduates of flight schools simply broke their fate. It was extremely difficult to get a job. Companies supported experienced pilots. Do not fire them in order to take in return the young and without experience. It is difficult to say how many pilots are actually working now, since many are considered employed, but do not actually fly.
Miroslav Boychuk, president of the Trade Union of Airmen of Russia, said that 600 pilots, after the start of the special operation, said that they tried to get a job in foreign companies, but the Federal Air Transport Agency does not issue verification letters to them.
I believe that we have the same number of pilots who openly declared nothing, but they no longer have work.
Just over a decade ago, there were not enough pilots, and the schools doubled the enrollment. These people now have a professional career ruined. They survived employment in the company, but they were never put into service, they never began to fly due to the reduction in the volume of flights. I don't even know how to talk to them, I'm in tears. They can't help...
- To what extent do our pilots meet international criteria?
- The modern civilian pilot is a category that has long gone beyond any national jurisdiction. All pilot training, standardization, recurrences, retraining are carried out in accordance with international standards, technologies and in international English. All procedures, all documentary support, conversations between pilots are conducted in English. That is why for pilots from any country there is no difference where to work.
I came to Aeroflot from the USA. Then he graduated from high school in France, working at Aeroflot, studied in Germany, in America. We have a lot of people flying in Asia, in China, in Turkey. For any pilot, the level of training is very strictly standardized in accordance with international standards and is the same everywhere.
- That is, our pilots now could easily get a job in any airline in the world, if not for the Federal Air Transport Agency?
- When air travel dropped sharply during the pandemic, many of our pilots, who were expats in Southeast Asia, China, Arab countries, lost their jobs. But when the pandemic began to decline, the air travel market played a plus and began to grow rapidly. There was an acute shortage of flight personnel. Of course, Russian pilots can get jobs around the globe.
- What kind of obstacles does the Federal Air Transport Agency put up, what documents cannot be submitted without the assistance of this department?
- Verification letter. It was always issued on demand. Rosaviatsia tried to comply with the requirements of ICAO, the international civil aviation organization. ICAO strictly complies with all legal procedures, both professional and those relating to human rights. Russia is a member of this organization. If she gets out of it, then the planes will stop flying altogether. But now ICAO has warned Russia that if it does not resolve disputes with lessors by September, it will receive a “red flag”. To date, only two countries have such flags - Bhutan and Eritrea. This flag means that the national regulator cannot ensure flight safety, so it makes no sense to regulate and standardize it.
Most foreign-made aircraft are now illegally in our country. As the Minister of Transport of Russia Vitaly Savelyev said, "we seized someone else's property." This is a verbatim quote.
It must be very clearly understood: from the moment this happened, flights became unsafe. There is a deep conviction that if you have some spare parts flying, you can find a replacement for them. But it's not.
A modern passenger liner is very deeply integrated into the global information system, like a computer or a smartphone. At any moment, the computer can stop updating and get blocked ... But if turning off the iPhone just spoils your mood, the modern aircraft system still constantly communicates with its manufacturer during the flight. Not just the aircraft as a whole communicates, but separately each engine keeps in touch with the manufacturer during the flight. If the owner and manufacturer put "Stop", flying, to put it mildly, becomes illegal and unsafe. The fate of pilots and passengers, of course, depends on this.
- What does the Federal Air Transport Agency respond to the requests of pilots?
- As far as I know from the stories of the pilots, no one communicates with them in any way. In 2008, I took the exam for an American flight license. I just approached the Federal Air Transport Agency and immediately received a verification letter. This was a strict ICAO norm, as I said, which the Federal Air Transport Agency strictly observed. Now, apparently, everything has changed.