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The aviation industry is facing challenging times. -File pic

KUALA LUMPUR: The “wings” of several hundred pilots flying for several international airlines are expected to be clipped soon.

This follows a severe downturn in business for these airlines, some of which are planning voluntary redundancy programmes or retrenchments of their surplus staff, while others may shut down.

Aviation analysts and industry officials told the New Straits Times that among those affected included 200 Malaysian pilots with Hong Kong Airlines and Etihad Airlines.

Etihad is the second largest airline in the United Arab Emirates, while Hong Kong Airlines is the next biggest after Cathay Pacific.

“There could be many more elsewhere as the aviation industry is facing very challenging times owing to various factors.

“Among them are rising operating costs, dried-up financing, weak travel demand, declining revenue, civil unrest and even the inability of the airlines to conform to international aviation regulations,” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The situation was made worse with many airlines cancelling bookings or taking delivery of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft following two deadly crashes that negatively affected demand, operating costs and production.

Media reports said this had resulted in scores of airlines, like Britain’s Thomas Cook and Iceland’s Wow Air, to cease operations in recent years.

A week ago, low-cost carrier Norwegian Air Shuttle and Air India were reportedly facing serious financial woes.

Air Shuttle announced it was ending some long-haul routes to the United States and Thailand from Scandinavia, citing technical issues with the Rolls Royce engines on Boeing 787s as well as low demand.

The reports said the airline would stop flying to New York, Los Angeles, Bangkok and Krabi in Thailand, from Copenhagen and Stockholm, after the winter break.

It will, however, continue to fly to the United States from Oslo, while its routes to Europe are unaffected.

India’s national carrier is reportedly facing a shutdown after being saddled with a US$11 billion debt.

Air India started as Tata Airlines in 1932 and later became state-owned but was losing money since its 2007 merger with state-owned domestic operator Indian Airlines.

Malaysia Airlines, too, is facing a daunting task to remain afloat and had in recent years retrenched flight crew operating the Boeing 777 fleet, which has since been put out of service.

“It is believed that the measures are being undertaken following a fleet review of their flight operations, leaving the airlines with surplus pilots and cabin crew,” said another official, adding that a similar scenario occurred in the late 1990s.

The official added that termination benefits included up to nine months of the flight crew’s basic salaries.

South China Morning Post reported that the management of beleaguered Hong Kong Airlines, in a last-ditch effort, had secured a HK$4.4 billion loan from a range of Chinese state-owned banks to keep the airline afloat.

The capital injection is learnt to come just in time for Hong Kong Airlines to pay nearly half of its 3,500 staff’s outstanding salaries by today or face having its operating licence suspended or revoked.

Hong Kong Airlines, the state’s third-largest airline, is backed by the financially-troubled HNA Group and is the only local competitor to the dominant Cathay Pacific Group. In 2008, another of the state’s airline, Oasis Hong Kong, went bust.

It was reported that Hong Kong Airlines would withdraw from all long-haul flights by February and will continue to shrink its regional flights, with more aircraft expected to be withdrawn from service.

The 13-year-old airline flies to 32 destinations, mostly in North Asia and Southeast Asia. But a quarter of its 39 planes have been grounded.

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