The Maharaja of the Indian aviation industry is occupying a very precarious throne at the moment. The most-recent reason: Over 450 of Air India’s pilots have applied for jobs with various airlines. The job hunt by the pilots has begun at a time when the national carrier is already short of people. Also, according to a well-placed source in the airline, the remaining pilots are planning another strike soon.
“Through some obtuse policy decisions, the airline management is instigating the pilots’ group to go on strike. It seems to be a deliberate attempt to benefit private players and strike the last nail in the ailing Maharaja’s coffin,” said an Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) member on the condition of anonymity.
The airline management has proposed a cut of 70 per cent in Productivity Linked Incentives (PLI) of the pilots, and has also withdrawn the facility of travelling as an Additional Crew Member (ACM) during leave. Moreover, the Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) guidelines are allegedly being violated by the management.
According to an ICPA pilot, “Most of the operating airlines are paying PLIs to their pilots. The crewmembers working for other airlines are also allowed to avail the ACM facility. Besides, the DGCA has approved cap of 30 hours a week, 120 hours a month and 1,000 hours for the pilots. However, due to shortage of staff, the pilots are bound to fly more, which again is a violation of regulatory guidelines.”
He added that in an environment where the salaries of several months are still pending, these new regulations would worsen the working conditions further. Left with no option, the staff will either be forced to go on strike or will quit the airline. “The working condition here is not feasible for pilots. We have over 800 pilots in our organisation, and over 450 have already applied in different airlines. The figure would increase considerably if pilots from Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) too are added,” said a pilot from ICPA.
Also, members of Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) are unhappy with the airline management. Out of the 101 pilots, who were terminated during the recent 58-day strike, only 58 have been reinstated. The rest are still under suspension. “The management, despite the advice from Delhi high court, seems to be in no mood to take the suspended pilots back. We’ll watch for few more days, and if they aren’t reinstated, we will go on a strike,” said an IPG member. The IPG operates majority of the international operations, whereas the ICPA runs the domestic operations, and a few international flights too.
Meanwhile, the aviation ministry and the top management of the airline allege that the pilots’ behaviour is benefiting private carriers. “The private carriers were the biggest beneficiaries of the 58-day strike called by the AI pilots. If another strike happens now, it will again benefit the private players,” quipped a senior AI official.
Despite repeated attempts, CMD of AI Rohit Nandan remained unavailable for comment. When contacted, former MD of Air India DS Mathur advised the airline to improve its work culture. “The condition will further deteriorate if proper steps aren’t taken in time. Instead of the day-to-today conflict, the management should look at the larger picture,” he suggested.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, in reply to a question in Lok Sabha, has admitted that the airline is running short of pilots. While the required strength for Boeing 787 aircraft is 90, the airline has only four pilots. Likewise, for Boeing 777 aircraft, 396 pilots are required, but the current strength is just 297.