A day after Air India pilots warned the Prime Minister’s office about alleged chinks in the safety records of a senior pilot shortlisted to head the airline’s flight operations, the airline chief Ashwani Lohani wrote a note showering praises on the same person.
In the note sent to the national security advisor Ajit Doval on October 22, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), a union comprising of more than 800 pilots alleged that captain Arvind Kathpalia, the airline’s executive director, operations and one of the candidates running for the post, had hushed up several safety lapses.
On Sunday, a day after the note was sent, Lohani gave his testimony on captain Kathpalia to the staffers. “I want to place on record the exemplary work done by you personally and the entire operations team under your leadership in planning and executing the longest non-stop flight in the world namely the Delhi-San Fransisco flight over the Pacific,” he wrote.
The flight was operated on October 15.
“I would also like to place on record the excellent manner in which you have been conducting the work of the operations department,” added Lohani.
The timing of appreciation letter raised some eyebrows among the airline staffers. “Why would you wait for a week and respond a day after the ICPA warning?” asked a senior AI staff requesting anonymity.
The ICPA letter alleged that in 2007, when captain Kathpalia was the executive commander of a Moscow-bound flight carrying the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, it faced a mid-air safety scare as was reported in HT on Monday. The cockpit crew allegedly forgot to lower the landing gear close to touchdown. They made the correction after being alerted by the Moscow ATC and after noticing the warning sign in the cockpit, added the ICPA note. But Lohani defended the senior pilot when HT asked him about the concerns raised by the ICPA.
“It is not the prerogative of the unions to decide who shall be in the management. Captain Kathpalia is an outstanding officer,” said Lohani.
In March, the Public Enterprise Selection Board selected captain Kathpalia for the post among five senior AI pilots.