Mumbai: Fifteen pilots of the cash-strapped Kingfisher Airlines Ltd stopped flying on Thursday to protest the delay in their salaries even as at least 30 executive pilots of the national flag carrier Air India Ltd reported sick.
“To start with, 15 pilots have gone on strike. We have decided to stop flying for free,” a senior pilot at Kingfisher Airlines said, requesting anonymity. Another pilot confirmed the development.
A senior official at the Executive Pilots’ Association of Air India said 32 pilots had fallen sick. He referred to a letter the association had sent last week to civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, stating the pilots are fatigued and stressed and do not want to jeopardize the lives of the passengers and crew.
“We wish to place on record that flying the truncated international schedule with just 100 executive pilots is pushing us beyond our limits and we are experiencing the symptoms of cumulative stress and fatigue and will not be able to maintain the schedule for much longer. We really want to see the airline survive and restore its lost glory. However, it cannot be at the expense of flight safety...”
Mint has reviewed a copy of the letter.
Kingfisher has downsized its operations from 365 flights a day to 100 under a temporary plan due to a cash crunch while a section of pilots at Air India, representing the Indian Pilots’ Guild, is on strike for over a month demanding parity of career progression between pilots of the pre-merger Air India and the former Indian Airlines. Air India is flying a temporary schedule with 100-odd executive pilots who are not part of the guild.
A spokesperson for Kingfisher Airlines said he was not aware of the concerted action by pilots in his airline and ruled out any impact on flights.
A senior Air India executive said 100-odd pilots are flying and it is natural for some of them to fall sick. “There is nothing unusual about it,” he said, requesting anonymity.
In a phone interview, Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India, said he was not aware of any intention by executive pilots to sabotage the carrier’s contingency flight schedule. “I am regularly talking to the Executive Pilots’ Association and they have not expressed any issues. The carrier has already advertised for recruiting new pilots and it will take its own time as we have to follow the government system.”
He ruled out the possibility of talking to the Indian Pilots’ Guild as the union is deregistered and reiterated that the striking pilots will have to call off the strike unconditionally before discussions begin. Nandan said the carrier is losing Rs 10 crore revenue a day, but an estimate of the final loss could only be derived after a quarter.
Meanwhile, the market share of both carriers is eroding. According to data released by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Kingfisher Airlines’ market share dipped to 5.2% in May from 5.4% in April. Air India’s market share slipped to 16.2% in May from 17.6% in April.