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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Whats weighing down Vistara

What’s weighing down Vistara?

Updated on: 06 April,2024 05:32 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Prasun Choudhari | mailbag@mid-day.com

Amid talk of merger with Air India, aviation expert highlights concerns, says pilots facing difficulty getting leave, management being inflexible

What’s weighing down Vistara?

Many Vistara pilots are dissatisfied with the reduced fixed compensation. File pic/AP

Captain Shakti Lumba, a prominent figure in the Indian aviation industry, has voiced serious concerns regarding the ongoing merger between Vistara and Air India. Drawing on his extensive experience, Capt Lumba who retired as IndiGo VP and had headed Alliance Air before that, warned that without immediate action, the merger could lead to a crisis similar to that of Boeing.


Capt Lumba highlighted several key issues within Vistara that he believes could jeopardise the success of the merger. “Vistara, for a long time, has been short of pilots at all levels, particularly acute at A320 FOs. If you keep expanding without hiring, training and upgrading enough pilots, you are soon going to have to cancel flights. This is common sense. Sadly, common sense is uncommon at Vistara,” he posted on X.


Captain Shakti Lumba, former pilot and airline executiveCaptain Shakti Lumba, former pilot and airline executive


‘Calling in sick only way out’

Contrary to speculation, Capt Lumba clarified that the recent increase in pilot sick leave instances is not a coordinated action by pilots but rather a result of fatigue and overwork. He attributed this to the airline’s strict leave approval process, which makes obtaining short leave difficult, leading pilots to opt for sick leave as the only viable option. “No, the pilots are not coordinating together and taking mass sick leave. We do not have a union. Everyone is just tired from flying. The new FDTL [Flight Duty Time Limitations] rules should have given us some relief but as expected that is also not happening. Everyone is angry at the new contract. But we all knew it was coming sooner or later. Some will leave, because of it, naturally. In Vistara, you do not get leave approved, unless you plan everything out for the whole financial year, usually in March. The short leave approval rate is close to non-existent. Calling in sick is the only way out. Pilots are flying at the edge of their max flight duty limitations. This is causing major health issues and everyone falling sick frequently. Pilots are already exceeding their max sick leave in a year and ending up on leave without pay," he posted.

Deteriorating situation

According to Capt Lumba, pilots are dissatisfied with the new contract terms, indicating that while some pilots may choose to leave as a result, the majority are frustrated with the lack of flexibility and understanding from management. He said, “According to what Vistara pilots told me, they have been seeing things deteriorate over the years, particularly after COVID. They are convinced that the Tatas do not care how their managements run their airlines. Why should they? They are just waiting and watching for them [Vistara management] to completely screw up the merger. They are unable to run an airline with 70 aircraft. What do you think is going to happen after the merger? As always, it’s easy to blame the pilots. Calling in sick burns them financially. Especially with the new contract where they are paid only if they fly.”

Pointing out that India has the largest number of unemployed pilots in the world, with over 6,000 currently seeking employment, he added, “Why blame us if the management cannot hire and train these pilots? They know the planes are coming. In a country with the largest number of unemployed pilots...we do not have enough pilots.”

‘Pilots not trusted’

Capt Lumba also criticised the management’s reliance on the Boeing Alertness Model (BAM), suggesting that they prioritise pilots’ firsthand experiences and concerns. He said, “Pilots have been complaining about fatigue to the management, which relies on the BAM and says the flight is safe, so one should have nothing to complain about. They trust software more than their own pilots. Software made by Boeing? Really? Well, very soon, Vistara, and new merged Air India, are going to be India’s ‘Boeing story’.”

The other side

A spokesperson from Vistara in a statement said, “We have had a significant number of flight cancellations and delays in the past few days due to various reasons including crew unavailability. We acknowledge and are deeply concerned about the inconvenience caused to our customers. Our teams are working towards minimising discomfort to customers. We have decided to temporarily reduce the number of flights we operate, to ensure adequate connectivity across our network. We have also deployed larger aircraft like our B787-9 Dreamliner and A321neo on select domestic routes to combine flights or accommodate more customers, wherever possible. 

Furthermore, we are offering alternative flight options or refunds to affected customers, as applicable. Once again, we understand that these disruptions have caused immense discomfort to our customers, and sincerely apologise to them for the same. We are working towards stabilising the situation and will resume operating at our regular capacity very soon.”

StafferSpeak

A Vistara staffer said, “The airline CEO had called for an emergency meeting this Wednesday with us [pilots] where he acknowledged the fact that the rosters were utilised to the maximum. But maybe the CEO failed to understand the fact that this is having a cascading effect on us as we have to fly for more hours because of others calling in sick. Because of this, our health is jeopardised and we might call in sick someday, leading to someone else being called to cover for us.”

6,000
No. of Indian pilots seeking employment currently

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