On August 19, an Air India flight to Kolkata was cancelled at the last moment. Sources say that this was on account of the airline’s dearth of its Airbus A320 commanders. This section of the airline’s cockpit crew operates domestic flights and few international flights to neighbouring destinations such as Dubai and Bangkok.
Sources in the airline said that the shortage resulted in frequent delay of flights on busy routes connecting metros such as Kolkata, Chennai and Hyderabad to the city.
The airline requires more than 45 A320 commanders to maintain its current flight schedule but is short of at least three to four pilots, sources added.
One of the reasons for the shortage is the airline’s decision to stop command training its co-pilots five months ago.
“When the training was on, the airline would get up to 10 new commanders every month,” said a senior management official, adding that it takes between 12 to 18 months to groom a co-pilot into a commander.
The airline’s recruitment drive to hire 200 new co-pilots is pending with the chairman and managing director. “All the concerned departments barring the CMD’s office have cleared it,” said another senior pilot.
Now, the management has asked the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union representing A320 fleet pilots, to allow extension of flight duty hours beyond the limit set in their bilateral agreement.
According to the agreement a pilot can fly a maximum of 80 hours a month or 240 hours in three consecutive months. “The shortage can be tackled for now if the union agrees to make an exception,” an official said.
The AI spokesperson did not respond to HT’s query.