While national carrier Air India (AI) bleeds, its management has stitched up cushy deals with its pampered pilots - the best-paid in the industry. They are guaranteed fewer flying hours per week, longer rest periods and fat perks.
While pilots of private airlines operate quick-return flights to destinations in West Asia and South East Asia such as Singapore and Bangkok, AI pilots stay in five-star hotels and return only after a day or two.
For example, a pilot who flies to Dubai on Monday rests there for two days and returns on Thursday.
Several years after the merger of the erstwhile domestic Indian Airlines (IA) and international carrier Air India (AI) with the latter's brandname retained, IA pilots continue to have their own rules called flight and duty time limitations (FDTL), which is much more liberal than the Directorate General of Civil Aviation's (DGCA) FDTL that is followed by private airlines.
Pilots of the erstwhile international carrier Air India also enjoy liberal terms, but not as liberal as those from IA.
After years of study and research carried out jointly by the US Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, the DGCA had laid down revised flight duty limitations in August 2011.
"But erstwhile IA pilots continue to have their own set of rules, belittling the regulatory authorities," an official said.
As per the DGCA's FDTL, the maximum flying hour duration for a pilot operating on domestic sectors is nine hours in a day.
However, IA pilots - unionised under the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) - have their own limit at six-and-a-half hours.
Similarly, the duty time limitation which includes reporting time, debriefing time and time spent on transit halts is 12.5 hours as per DGCA regulations while IA pilots have restricted it to 9.5 hours.
In case of exigencies, the pilots fly for an extra hour at the most and in turn are financially compensated for through an additional payment at 150% of their hourly flying allowance, which can work out to as much as Rs 7,905 for a senior captain.
Likewise, the maximum number of landings permitted by DGCA in a day is six. IA pilots restrict it to only three.
An additional landing will be done provided the scheduled operation is between 0530 and 2300 hrs and the flight time is also restricted to only five hours.
This also will be done only four times in a month and the pilots have to be compensated to the equivalent of one hour of flying, which is Rs 5,270 in the case of a senior captain.