Air India may slash flights amid crew shortage
Air India operates 47 weekly flights to the US, which include seven to Chicago, 14 to New York, six to Newark, 17 to San Francisco and three to Dulles
Passengers flying to the US on Air India may see cancellations during the peak summer travel season as a crew shortage forces the flag carrier to trim popular flights to the country, officials said on Monday.
“As of now, six weekly flights to US, three to Newark and three to San Francisco, will be trimmed due to crew shortage for the coming 2-3 months,” chief executive officer and managing director Campbell Wilson said.
Air India’s Delhi to San Francisco flight will be cancelled for over three months, its flight to Newark will be cancelled for over a month, and the flight from Mumbai to New York will be cancelled for the entirety of May, according to internal operations communication accessed by HT.
“Air India’s flight AI 105/106 will be cancelled from March 26 to April 29, its flight AI 119/ 116 from Mumbai to New York will be cancelled for the entire May and its flight AI 173/ 174 from Delhi to San Francisco will be cancelled from March 26 to June 29,” an official said, declining to be named.
Air India operates 47 weekly flights to the US, which include seven to Chicago, 14 to New York, six to Newark, 17 to San Francisco and three to Dulles, a spokesperson said.
“We are reducing frequencies on routes that won’t see any impact on passengers as they will be accommodated on other flights,” Wilson said. “We are hiring 500 cabin crew every month. Around 1,700 captains will be on duty soon. These will include less than 10% expat pilots.”
The crew shortage has also compelled the airline to operate narrow body aircraft to Dubai and Bangkok instead of operating it’s B787 aircraft. These flights will include AI 330, AI 332, AI 331 and AI 333.
At the height of the peak winter travel season, the airline had postponed flights to New York, Vienna, Copenhagen, and Milan to February.
“The reduction of flights to the US in peak summer travel period will not only increase airfares for passengers but also force passengers to choose Gulf carriers,” aviation expert Mohan Ranganathan said.
Air India, which was acquired by the Tata Group last year, is reducing its long haul flights due to crew shortage at a time it offered a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) that ended on June 1 last year, an official said, seeking anonymity. The scheme allowed a notice period of three months, which implied that all cabin crew who had applied for it would have been released by September.
“But the management, to meet the shortage, extended it repeatedly,” the official said. “It was first announced to be extended till November, then December- January, March and then April. Currently, the VRS is extended until July 2023.”
Around 150 cabin crew from Mumbai and around 250 from other locations had applied for the retirement scheme.
“Air India had more than 500 retirements in the last three years. For the current fleet size, the airline is short of almost 700 crew,” the official said. “For its revised planned induction, it will need an additional 3,000 crew. However, if one counts retirements, that could rise to 5,000 additional cabin crew.”
The airline on Friday announced the second phase of the VRS, but excluded cabin crew and security due to the staff shortage.
“Out of the 1,500-1,900 newly recruited crew members, hardly any of them have obtained US visa appointments though they are getting interview calls, and despite some of them being recruited in last June and July,” another airline official said, wishing to remain unnamed.
The cabin crew shortage has become more acute because of Air India’s increased fleet and crew utilisation, almost 100 hours per crew on wide body aircraft.
“This has led almost 800 crew to be high on hours (HOH) in terms of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation norms and thus cannot be utilised,” the official said. “Over 350 cabin crew in Mumbai and around 400 of them in Delhi currently are HOH, a state when crew are in the range of crossing the DGCA flying limitations each year and have to be benched.”
Cabin crew are allowed 1,000 hours every year and pilots are allowed 8,00 hours.
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In November-December, Air India also began training new recruits for B787 aircraft so that the crew can be used on some international flights whilst waiting for the US visas, according to another airline official. “In order to facilitate US visas, the airline has recently appointed Riya Travels as documentation liaison for crew visas,” the official said.
Air India resumed all its pre-Covid flights and made its grounded aircraft operational but did not account for more than 200 crew who retired since the pandemic, others who took VRS and the fact that there was no recruitment for many years before until privatisation in January 2022, an industry expert said, requesting anonymity.
“The cancellation of flights to the US is just the tip of the iceberg,” a former Air India official said, declining to be named.
“Going by Air India’s 2017 manpower policy document with 2019 amended DGCA new rules, the shortage on the day of takeover was 1,700 crew and 250 pilots with those fleet and routes. Thereafter, more than 25 aircraft were re-inducted and many new routes were commissioned,” he said. “That number has since grown with retirements , VRS and fleet and route expansions to an overall crew shortage of 3,000 and 370 pilots today.”