Covid-19: Airline workers explore new horizons

Even for those lucky enough to still have their jobs, the lower number of flights meant that their incomes have also taken hits


Mohd Fahmi hopes to launch a mobile app for his Healez Facial Spa which he operates with a team

WHEN AirAsia Bhd announced plans to further cut its workforce due to the Covid-19 crisis last month, senior flight attendant Mohd Fahmi Aluwi had an inkling that his luck was about to run out.

“The moment they said there would be another round of retrenchment in October, I was mentally and emotionally prepared to face it,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) when contacted. A few weeks later, he ended his service on Oct 31.

Mohd Fahmi, who joined the budget carrier in June 2015, was among thousands of staff and personnel that had been laid off by the company since the start of the year as the spread of the coronavirus disease hammered the aviation industry. The physiotherapy graduate from Universiti Teknologi Mara has since shifted his attention to his facial spa business, Healez Facial Spa, which he operates with a team.

Mohd Fahmi said he had hoped to launch a mobile app for the personal care service in the near term to expand the business reach in the men’s skincare niche market.

“I hope we’d be able to launch our app on the Apple and GooglePlay stores soon,” he said.

Across the country, airline workers like Mohd Fahmi have wrestled with similar decisions as months of global lockdowns and travel curbs push airlines deeper into crisis.

In July, AirAsia announced plans to raise RM2.4 billion to ease its restricted cashflow. The low-cost carrier said it would source up to RM1 billion from financial institutions, while raising the remaining RM1.4 billion from equity. Local rival Malindo Airways Sdn Bhd has also cut about 2,600 jobs and reduced its fleet size to keep the company afloat.

AirAsia X Bhd, the long-haul arm of AirAsia, had also proposed to restructure RM63 billion of debt and slash its share capital by 90% to continue.

AirAsia X aircraft maintenance technician Ahmad Fikhriey Azrimi, who was retrenched in June, said he had been looking for a job for three months before finally settling for a job as a barista at San Francisco Coffee in September.

“I spent the first two weeks enjoying my leisure time before going out to seek a new job. I was open to opportunities in other industries as the aviation industry is in a state of crisis.

“The search went on for about three months before I realised that it was not easy to find a high-paying job. So, ultimately, I opted for something that I love, which is coffee,” he told TMR.

Titi Zulia has attempted to rejoin MAB via its pilgrim- centric charter service Amal, but did not succeed

Ahmad Fikhriey (main picture)  joined AirAsia X in October 2017 and holds a licence in aircraft maintenance engineering from APR-Aviation Training Centre. “It’s not easy as other industries are affected too, but I’m glad I can do something that I like,” he said.

For gas turbine and mechanical technician Shafiq Naufal, the hunt for a permanent job becomes nearly impossible due to his specialised technical expertise. For now, Shafiq has to settle with a freelance job in mechanical equipment at a power company.

“I’m open to working in sectors other than aviation like oil and gas, the power industry or even in heavy industries. But it is hard to find jobs nowadays. I would send my resumé and check on my application every other day to see if there are any openings for a permanent job, but there aren’t,” he said, hoping that a talent recruiter might read this article.

Shafiq began his career in aviation after completing his aircraft maintenance engineering diploma at GE Aviation. After about two years with GE Aviation, Shafiq moved to Rolls-Royce Singapore Pte Ltd where he worked for more than three years before he was offered a role at Pratt & Whitney Singapore in August 2019.

The aircraft engine manufacturer announced on Aug 3 this year that it had laid off 20% of its workforce in Singapore — making up about 400 of over 2,000 employees it has in the city-state. Shafiq was among the employees who were affected by the retrenchment plan.

Meanwhile, former Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAB) stewardess Titi Zulia Awang, who was retrenched in 2016, is now working full-time in sales with Coway (M) Sdn Bhd. She is also involved in providing feeder service for airport staff over the last five years. “I go door to door, from their home to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport for both cabin and technical crew,” she said.

Mohd Rafee has turned his attention to his part-time business selling homemade cakes and cookies

Titi Zulia said she had attempted to rejoin the flag carrier via its pilgrim-centric charter service Amal on several occasions, but did not succeed. “I did go for interviews for Amal, but I guess I’m not lucky,” she told TMR.

Even for those who are lucky enough to still have their jobs, the lower number of flights meant that their incomes have also taken hits. Mohd Rafee Abu Bakar, who remains a steward for MAB, said while his salary had not been affected, allowances have been reduced by 70%.

With the extra free time he has now, Mohd Rafee said he has turned his attention to his part-time business selling homemade cakes and cookies which he started in 2014.

“So far so good, I will just go with the flow. I don’t have a plan to find a new job yet. The competition in the job market these days is no joke. If the worst comes, I will switch to my side business and maybe, do something related to curtains too. I’ve always aspired to become a person with many skills,” he said.