Two days after five top officials of Pawan Hans Helicopters, a public sector undertaking, put in their papers, 58 off-shore trained pilots have gone on strike, saying they will not fly till someone is put in charge and their grievances are addressed.
On Saturday, five deputy general managers quit their job leaving the top posts of management vacant, following which the pilots’ union, Pawan Hans Pilots’ Guild (PHPG), went on strike. Explaining their protests, a pilot said that usually, before a flight takes off, the pilot is briefed on several issues but since the authorities have resigned there is no authorised person to carry out the procedures and hence, no flights can take off.
The protesting pilots also complained of being forced to fly to Naxal-affected areas. They said they risked their lives flying to such areas. A pilot said, “There is no security for us at the helipads when we land in Naxal-affected areas. It’s a huge risk for us. Moreover, if we die in a shootout in such an area, our families will be left with no support as insurance companies do not cover such cases.”
They also complained of the shortage of pilots at the company. “All the pilots here are highly qualified and experienced. Almost all of us have worked in the army and navy. But we are forced to fly to such places. Moreover, since the company is suffering from monetary losses, there is a shortage of pilots owing to which we are expected to fly more hours. This is not only unfair but also dangerous,” alleged R K Mahajan, general secretary of the pilots’ guild.
Additionally, the pilots alleged that they were being forced to carry weapons and ammunition in the choppers, which was illegal. Mahajan added, “We wrote letters to our seniors asking them to rethink these matters but they have ignored us. Moreover, they sign contracts with customers without even consulting us. They have changed our profile from low-risk civil commercial flying to higher risk military pilots, which is unacceptable to us.”
The other side
“I am not aware as to why they didn’t fly today. With regards to flying to Naxal-affected areas, they asked for extra money and hence, we are paying Rs 3,000 extra a day to fly to such areas. However, when it comes to the safety of the pilots, they are absolutely safe. There are many government officials posted in these areas so there is nothing to worry,” said Anil Srivastava, IAS chairman-cum-managing director, Pawan Hans.