Exclusive: Vietnam's Bamboo Airways struggling to pay pilot wages; some depart - sources

An Airbus A321 aircraft of Bamboo Airways taxis at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi

An Airbus A321 aircraft of Bamboo Airways taxis at Noi Bai airport in Hanoi, Vietnam January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Kham/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

  • Some 30 foreign pilots have left in last two months -source
  • Internal chat forum shows some salary payments have been late
  • Bamboo says pilot departures due to restructuring efforts
  • Bamboo says planning to raise capital from Samcombank, others

HANOI, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Some pilots have left Vietnam's restructuring Bamboo Airways in the last two months after late payments in salaries, according to two people familiar with the matter.

About 30 foreign pilots departed during that time, more than 10% of the airline's total pilot staff in June, according to one of the people, who declined to be identified as the information was not public.

A second person said some pilots had recently quit and others were dismissed.

Embattled Bamboo, Vietnam's No. 3 airline, said in a statement to Reuters that it has undertaken drastic restructuring and those efforts encompass its route network, fleet and human resources.

"Bamboo Airways has reduced a number of pilot personnel recently to serve this goal," the statement said, denying that late payments of salaries were the reason behind the departures.

It did not respond to questions about how many pilots have left.

Many staff at Bamboo have sometimes had to face delays in salary payments but this had not, until recently, affected foreign pilots who make up a large majority of the airline's pilot staff, the sources said.

Messages seen by Reuters from an internal company chat forum that management uses to communicate with foreign pilots show some salary payments have been late.

An Aug. 21 message from a company representative in the forum told foreign pilots they would have received on that day 35% of their monthly salary that had been due a week earlier, and they would be informed about the remainder when there was more information.

A similar message was sent a month earlier.

The amounts were later paid in full but foreign pilots had not received their pay for August that had been due on Sept. 15, according to information from one of the people that was current as of Sept. 25.

Bamboo also said in statements to Reuters that it is operating stably and is planning to raise capital from strategic shareholders. It said one of its major financial backers, Vietnam's Sacombank (STB.HM), had expressed confidence in its long-term prospects and the desire to increase its investment in the airline.

Sacombank has not provided comment.

Bamboo's new chief executive, Nguyen Ngoc Trong, said in a letter to staff last month, which was seen by Reuters, that the airline was facing "tough times" but added the government was committed to supporting the company.

Vietnam's Government Office did not reply to a request for comment.

Trong was appointed CEO in July when his predecessor resigned after less than two months on the job.

Bamboo had flagged in 2021 plans to list in the United States but has been struggling with rapid management changes and aggressive restructuring since a former chairman was arrested in March 2022 over allegations of stock market manipulation.

It was not immediately clear which companies have the biggest stakes in Bamboo. A spokesperson for Bamboo said details about its ownership would be disclosed at a later date.

Bamboo, which flies both internationally and domestically, has around 17% of Vietnam's market share, its then CEO told local media in March.

It booked losses of 17.6 trillion dong ($722 million) last year, the government has said.

Bamboo's flights continue to regularly depart, schedules at the country's two main airports show. Seven of its 30 planes, including some of those recently acquired, are currently parked for maintenance, according to tracking website Planespotters.net.

Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio and Khanh Vu; Additional reporting by Phuong Nguyen, Mai Nguyen and Jamie Freed; Editing by Edwina Gibbs

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Thomson Reuters

Francesco leads a team of reporters in Vietnam that covers top financial and political news in the fast-growing southeast Asian country with a focus on supply chains and manufacturing investments in several sectors, including electronics, semiconductors, automotive and renewables. Before Hanoi, Francesco worked in Brussels on EU affairs. He was also part of Reuters core global team that covered the COVID-19 pandemic and participated in investigations into money laundering and corruption in Europe. He is an eager traveler, always keen to put on a backpack to explore new places.