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Aeroflot ditching flight attendants due to sanctions

Russia's largest airline, Aeroflot, is currently firing many of its flight attendants due to the losses caused by anti-Russian sanctions. Its subsidiary, the Rossiya airline, has closed down its 80-strong cabin crew office in Yekaterinburg. As The Insider found out, Aeroflot's head office is downsizing too. According to an internal source, the company is not firing flight attendants explicitly but works towards creating an environment that causes employees to leave. Many are looking to relocate abroad.

“Fewer flights, less money”

Rossiya (Aeroflot's subsidiary airline) made the call to close down its cabin crew department in Yekaterinburg, dismissing around 80 employees, reports the Aviatorshchina Telegram channel. Rossiya's press service has confirmed the information. Flight attendants in other cities are out of their jobs too. As an Aeroflot employee shared with The Insider, the company has not started an official downsizing process in its flight attendants department. However, people are encouraged to leave.

“Now that Aeroflot has received government funding, it offers its employees 100,000-200,000 rubles depending on their term of service (ten years or more) for retiring voluntarily. Flight attendants have also found themselves under closer scrutiny: more inspections, paperwork, rigid dress code requirements, and tight control over inventories after flights.”

According to our source, the Onboard Service Department has been restructured: eleven all-purpose divisions have been transformed into two business-class and four economy-class divisions.

“Many heads of divisions and their deputies have lost their posts. From what I know, they were fired, not made redundant,” the airline employee says. “Many others were forced to take non-paid leaves. Civil aviation is in the middle of a second crisis over the last few years, and its human resources policy will be the same. Many will see their incomes plummet and will leave on their own; others will be forced to leave. I think we’ll see the dismissals peak late in the fall when the vacation season is over and flights are fewer. When, or rather, if the flight situation takes a turn for the better, Aeroflot will start hiring again and will re-hire some of its employees, as it did when COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Crisis factors are evident: sanctions, closed skies, fewer flights, and less money. Keeping planes in storage is costly.”

“Dismissals will peak late in the fall when the vacation season is over and flights are fewer”

According to the Aeroflot employee, “the attitudes among the staff vary greatly”. Some believe that “even if everyone sinks, the state will save Aeroflot”; others have been doomscrolling since the war broke out and are in a constant state of panic. Others still are experiencing profound professional burnout and have no hopes for the future.

“Those who have mortgage loans or rent apartments find it the hardest,” the source remarks. “Flight attendants have a progressive pay scale with a menial flat rate. Twenty or thirty flight hours fewer results in considerably lower income. The recent wage indexation has somewhat remedied the situation: late in 2021, the company conceded to a pay raise, faced with an outflow of flight attendants to airlines with higher wages. In light of the recent events, many colleagues are considering both changing employers and leaving the country. There is little room for a plurality of opinions in the company or the state at large. Everyone who dares oppose the ‘special operation’ is given the sack.”

“Everyone who dares oppose the ‘special operation’ is given the sack. Many are considering emigration”

Furthermore, as the source points out, Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev tried to abolish flight attendants’ health hazard pay a long while ago. His attempts have reached a new level now. “Without the hazard pay, many employees may resign because it was the only reason for their loyalty to airlines in the recent years.”

Aircraft issues

Another challenge faced by Aeroflot is its fleet of planes. Our source expressed concern that Russians would have to make do with what's left of foreign planes, but servicing them is problematic because no one is supplying parts to Russia anymore. Apart from that, Aeroflot is an experienced operator of Sukhoi Superjet planes, but this aircraft is subpar to its Western analogs: more fuel-hungry and less reliable.

“The Superjets have been transferred to Rossiya for operation, and the state is still paying out compensations to other operators. The MC-21 aircraft also requires import substitution and has not reached the mass production stage; other models don’t even deserve mentioning. Discussions are ongoing, but we may be five or ten years away from any practical outcome. Finally, when it comes to long-range airliners, the Boeing 777 and the Airbus A330 and A350 have no competition.

The government is making ambitious promises, though. In June, Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin announced that Russian airlines would get 1,000 domestically made planes before 2030. To that end, the government plans to allocate 770 billion rubles (~$13 billion) over the next seven years, said Mishustin. The list of aircraft to be built includes a hundred and forty SSJ New planes, two hundred and seventy МС-21-310, seventy Il-114-300, and seventy Tu-214. The prime minister even signed a directive to that effect.

As an anonymous aviation expert warned The Insider, the plan is utopian.

“Neither the government nor the aircraft manufacturers have fully or timely met a single commitment made over the last 15 years. They have not begun making 70 or 50 Superjets a month... They upped their pledge from 20... to 30... and then to 50 MC-21, but never met the target. They never fulfilled their promise to export 60% of Superjets and use 40% domestically. They went back on their word to develop the Superjet into a family of aircraft. They missed the deadlines for MC-21 certification and commissioning. The CR929 project <The Insider's note: CRAIC CR929, a planned long-range wide-body airliner family>, a joint venture with China, is way behind schedule. The first flights were scheduled for 2021, but we are yet to see a full-body prototype; even the vital components have not been assembled yet. Manufacturing 1,000 planes in a Russia hit by sanctions before 2030 is an unrealistic scenario.”

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