New Delhi: Air India Ltd plans to reinstate pilots it sacked after they took part in a two-month strike that brought the airline’s international operations to a halt four years ago.
The airline hopes to use the seven pilots who were seen as key people in instigating the strike seeking exclusivity over flying a certain type of Air India planes to expand its operations.
Air India’s executive director (operations) Arvind Kathpalia on 6 September wrote to chairman Ashwani Lohani seeking reinstatement of pilots who were involved in the 2012 strike organized by the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
Within 48 hours, Lohani cleared the move, which Mint has reviewed.
“We are in the receipt of applications from the following pilots who were terminated in IPG agitation in 2012, requesting to be reinstated in the airline,” Kathpalia wrote, naming the pilots in the letter and recommending that in view of plans to induct two more Boeing 777 planes “we may reinstate the above 7 pilots”.
‘We need to fly, not keep aircraft on ground. Please do by tomorrow,” Lohani wrote.
Some 100 pilots took part in the 2012 strike; the seven pilots mentioned by Kathpalia weren’t taken back by the airline because they were seen as key instigator, but the others have already been reabsorbed.
Lohani cleared the proposal days after another union, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), on 1 September threatened labour action if its demands for pay raises and other service benefits weren’t met.
Lohani had on 5 September written a letter warning of “exemplary disciplinary action” against any employee who resorted to such action.
In the context of the tough stand he took, the decision to take back the seven pilots may send the wrong message, some analysts said.
“A disciplinary action issued one day is revoked next day. With this mindset you can never enforce discipline,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based aviation analyst.
“Of late, there are examples like reinstatement of a pilot which had been kept in abeyance because of misconduct and a pilot promotion that has already been challenged in the courts,” Ranganthan said, “Air India has to not just pretend to be tough and but act tough.”
Air India suffered a loss of Rs.600 crore in the 58-day strike by pilots in 2012, then civil aviation minister Ajit Singh told Parliament on 14 August 2012.
The pilots started reporting sick from 7 May in 2012 in protest against management’s decision to train pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines to fly long-haul Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft.
The decision to take back the pilots comes at a time when many Air India pilots flying Boeing 777s are waiting to be promoted.
“Ideally those people should have been given training and made commanders instead of taking pilots that caused the company so much harm,” said a person aware of the situation who declined to be named. “It has sent very wrong signals across the company.”
Lohani defended the move.
“There is no decision so far. We are only examining because we want to fly all Boeing 777s in the overall interest—extra frequencies to San Francisco and a new flight to Washington is on the cards,” Lohani said in a text message in reply to questions from Mint.
Air India has 1,700 pilots of which nearly 300 have been recruited in the last one year alone. Boeing 777s are only scheduled to join fleet in the next financial year. All its existing Boeing 777s already operate flights globally.