Air India is at war, with itself. There are two systems working side by side in the flag carrier and the current pilots' agitation, if anything, exposes that.
In 2007, the government had merged Air India (AI) and Indian Airlines (IA) to make one of the largest airlines in the world by fleet-size and manpower. Five years down the road, it has come not to be.
Insiders today say that though they sit in the same offices and share a common brand name, the split is wide open, as two systems compete to run one airline.
Not just pilots and the cabin crew, even managers and junior staff from both sides fight over allowances, pay scales and even holidays.
On the surface, it looked like an issue with the pilots. But when contacted by IANS, even the cabin crew-in-charges, cargo managers and other functionaries voiced the same resentment over the merger.
"The merger created problems that cannot be solved. Our grades, work, promotions and allowances are different. When you see your colleague from the other cadre doing the same work, but getting easy promotions, allowances, there is bound to be resentment," a senior official with the operations arm told this correspondent on condition of anonymity.
"The company below the rank of DGM (deputy general manger) is not at all integrated. There are two systems of promotions, allowances and even foreign postings."
Another official with the airline's cargo division said the problems started when the two systems collided. AI was following a system under which the department head has the discretionary power to promote and the promotions are time- bound, while IA had a strict Human Resources (HR) code of interviews and written tests.
Another factor that has affected the morale of the employees is the executive pay scale in AI which is surprisingly lower than those of IA.
"Some of us were overlooked and the discriminatory power was used to promote the other cadre. This left many saddened. After such harassment who would like to put in his best effort," asked another official.
"These are just initial problems. Once the Dharmadhikari report is implemented, I don't know what criteria it has but if it comes with the rider that the pay scale would be criteria for seniority, promotions will be a major problem."
Not just that. In the pilots case, while a commander of AI gets Rs.8 lakh per month that of IC gets Rs.3 lakh per month. Even a bare minimum flying allowance of 80 hours is granted to AI pilots while it is only 72 hours given to IA pilots.
"In this case there is also an issue of promotion. We don't get to fly as much as our IC counterparts do, thereby reducing our flying hours and a chance to get to the higher grade," said an agitating pilot.
Both sides also play the blame game by stating that overseas assignments as station officers are restricted for IA officials as traditionally they only had three foreign branches.
No one knows what the report by Justice D.M. Dharmadhikari submitted in January actually has suggested. Details are not available, but it is understood to have talked about the mess in the airline and has made recommendations on such critical issues like career progression, integration across various cadres, rationalisation of pay scale, allowances and incentives and overall restructuring of the entire staff of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh last week blamed the merger as the reason behind the current crisis, saying it should not have been done, or more due diligence should have been carried out the process was on.