As the stalemate between a large section of Air India pilots and its management entered the fifth day, aviation experts said the national carrier could handle the crisis better.
Sources said that according to the airline’s policy, every commander becomes an executive rank pilot by default after completing 500 hours of flying. By that logic, of the 450 pilots staying off duty, about 40% are executive rank pilots, who were available with the airline to operate flights.
However, AI has failed to operate even a single long-distance international flight since Tuesday. “The civil aviation minister should take stock of the number of executive pilots available as compared to the flights operated,” said an aviation expert with a private consultancy firm.
While the airline has operated a handful flights on long haul routes from Delhi, hundreds of west-bound passengers in Mumbai were left with no option but to cancel their trips or pay 20% more to rebook their tickets on other airlines.
The airline consistently cancelled at least six flights daily in the past four days.
An AI spokesperson said that they would take time to assess whether executive pilots are being utilised properly. “Since Delhi is the hub for most of our long distance international flights we have deputed of the available crew in the capital,” said the spokesperson. The spokesperson added that as cockpit crew operating long distance flights have longer rest periods, the airline is facing a manpower crunch.
The flight cancellations were caused by hundreds of pilots calling in sick to protest the management’s move to allow its domestic fleet pilots to train on Boeing 787s.
Interview Jitendra Awhad, president, Indian Pilots' Guild
'Sacking pilots an immature move'
Why has the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) failed to start a dialogue with the airline management or the civil aviation ministry?
We have been open to a dialogue since Day 1. We have consistently made calls, sent emails seeking appointment from the management and the ministry. But we have not heard from them as yet.
Did the consistent sacking of pilots put the communication with the management off track?
It (sacking) is the most immature move by the management. Sackings and terminations have never solved a dispute.
Don't you think the purpose of the protest is too small compared to the hardships faced by passengers?
We sympathise with passengers but our fight is for survival and growth. Allowing domestic fleet pilots to train on Being 787s will limit our career growth.
An erstwhile Indian Airline co-pilot does at least 500 landings in a span of six years to become a commander as against an IPG (erstwhile Air India) pilot who barely does 50 landings during the same period. How would you justify the IPGs demand to get command training in six years?
The number of landings done by pilot does not indicate his eligibility for command training. IPG members are trained to fly wide-bodied plane as against the domestic fleet pilots who have only operated narrow-bodied aircraft. If our members take 10 days to adapt to 787s, they will take at least 45 days.
Do you think being a member of the National Congress Party (NCP) and its unpleasant chemistry with the Congress is working against the purpose of the agitation?
We don’t think so. We have full faith in the civil aviation minister Ajit Singh. A delegation of 50 women pilots would be meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi tomorrow