More than hundred Bangkok-bound Air India passengers were stranded at the Mumbai airport for at least four hours on Saturday, as the airline did not have pilots to operate their flight.
The flight, scheduled to leave the city at 2 am on Saturday, left well past 6 am.
This was not a stray incident. Two flights, one to Goa and one to Hyderabad were delayed on Saturday for about 2 hours because of a shortage of AI commanders operating the national carrier’s Airbus fleet.
These pilots largely operate the airline’s domestic flights, and a few flights to nearby international destinations such as Dubai and Bangkok.
Airline sources said the induction of the Boeing 787 was likely to aggravate the problem. “A significant number of management pilots trained for the 787s are not available to operate Airbus fleet, which has added to the shortage,” said a senior pilot requesting anonymity.
Sources added that the gap between availability of cockpit crew and aircraft is likely to widen further when Airbus planes grounded currently owing to routine maintenance join the fleet. For instance, an Airbus 330 aircraft is likely to resume operations from September 5 but the airline is struggling to roster crew to operate it.
One of the principal reasons for the shortage is the airline’s decision to stop command training of its co-pilots five months ago. “As long as the command training was on, the airline would get up to 10 new commanders every month,” said a senior management official, requesting anonymity, adding that that it takes between 12 and 18 months to groom a co-pilot into a commander.
Last week, the civil aviation ministry Ajit Singh had warned that the debt-ridden carrier would get the committed cash infusion of Rs30,000 crore (over the next eight years) only if there is improvement in its performance.
The AI spokesperson did not respond to HT’s query.