As 300 AI pilots face the axe, top bosses fly off to China

Jun 12, 2012, 06:25 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh

While another crisis looms for the Maharaja with Civil Aviation Minister threatening to sack the striking pilots, the chairman and a top director of Air India are away in Beijing for an airlines conference.

While the loss-making Maharaja continues to sink deeper into a mire, the airline’s top executives appear to be giving the predicament here a royal ignore in favour of flying to foreign destinations. While a section of Air India pilots continue to remain on strike, two top bosses of the national carrier have decided to attend an international summit of airlines at Beijing. The person who is looking after the affairs of Air India in their absence is none other than the civil aviation minister.

Chinese checkers: Air India CMD Rohit Nandan

The offices of CMD, Air India, Rohit Nandan and director, commercial and corporate affairs, Deepak Brara confirmed to this newspaper that both are on an official trip to Beijing to attend the conference of International Air Transport Association (IATA). “He has gone to attend the IATA summit in Beijing and is expected to resume office by Wednesday,” said the staff at the CMD’s office in Mumbai. The reply received from Brara’s office was no different. “He is not in the city. He has gone for the IATA summit,” said the office staff.

Out of here!
An Air India official told MiD DAY that both bigwigs left for the Chinese capital on Saturday by an international airline. “They are on an official trip to Beijing to attend the IATA summit 2012. They have left on Saturday and are expected to return back on Wednesday,” said the official on condition of anonymity

He also added that both officials are authorised for business class travel and five-star accommodation and their combined stay may cost Rs 5-7 lakh. Past Air India officials whom MiD DAY contacted maintained the trip was not required under the present circumstances.

‘Misplaced priorities’
Former AI managing director Captain DS Mathur said, “It is great to attend an IATA meet. But when your own house is not in order, it is not mandatory to go there. This shows what your priorities are. In my view what they could have done was to send a representative from the commercial department, as that’s what the summit is all about. It was expected of them to stay in the country and solve the issue that is of utmost priority.”

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director (PR), Air India, said, “Keeping in view the turmoil in the airline and the company’s financial status, such a visit sends a wrong message to the rank and file regarding the need for observing austerity.” Incidentally, Kingfisher, which is also a member of IATA, is not participating in the event. Sources confirmed that the main focus of the beleaguered airline is to get itself back on track.

Striking a sour note
For the past 36 days, 400 Air India pilots are on strike, of whom 101 have been terminated. There is a buzz that the airline might sack all agitating pilots in the coming days. The net loss due to the ongoing strike has crossed the Rs 400-crore mark. IPG, representing aviators of erstwhile Air India (now merged with Indian Airlines), went on strike on May 8 against the move to train their counterparts from IA on the soon-to-be-inducted Boeing 787 Dreamliner. The strike has crippled Air India's international operations, with the airline only operating 38 international flights from the original 45 services. 

What meet?
International Air Transport Association (IATA) is an international trade body, created by a group of airlines. The annual event, which also is known as Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit, is a platform to share ideas and meet officials from other airlines. The 68th IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit, is being held in Beijing, from June 10 to 12 and is hosted by national carrier of China “Air China”. During the summit, the Air India representatives and other delegates are expected to partake in panel discussions pertaining to doing business in China, future of airline distribution, value of aviation, social media and air transport and commercialisation of biofuels etc. In the words of, Tony Tyler, Director General & CEO, this is the summit agenda for 2012: “Our 2012 discussions will focus on some of the economic and other challenges facing our industry, squeezed between high oil prices and still fragile profitability, but since we will be in China, a country of huge economic scale, we will also spend some time discussing how to make the most of business opportunities there.”

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