Mumbai / New Delhi: In a further sign that the Air India management has been forced to step back from its eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with its powerful pilots union, the government on Thursday said that representatives of the national carrier’s executive pilots would be included in a committee that has been set up to examine contentious issues such as salary reductions for around 31,500 Air India employees.
The committee has been asked to submit its report to the board of National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, which operates the Air India fleet, at a meeting scheduled on 14-15 October.
Nacil was weighed down by accumulated losses of Rs7,200 crore and borrowings of up to Rs15,241 crore at the end of June, and the airline lost at least Rs100 crore in the five days since Saturday, when around 200 pilots went on strike and 400 flights were cancelled. They were protesting against a decision by the Nacil management to stop paying productivity-linked incentives, or PLIs, to some categories of employees.
“There was an order issued on 24 September for (an) across-the-board cut on PLI. That has been frozen,” a senior government official who did not want to be named said. He added that the “board will decide on the cuts” after its meeting on 14-15 October.
Ready to fly: An Air India plane at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai on Wednesday. Shirish Shete/PTI
In a telephone chat with Mint, beleaguered Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav said “there is a new committee set up that will look into the recommendations”. He did not divulge further details.
Jadhav’s plan to fly the national carrier back into profitability depends on cost reductions and financial support from the government.
“The future is very bright for Air India. We can turn around the airline with a concrete plan. There are so many wasteful expenditures by the airline at present. If somebody in the company asks me, I am ready to submit it,” V.K. Bhalla, who led the pilots’ strike, said.
Bhalla did not give any specific areas of wasteful expenditure or revenue enhancement measure for turning the airline around.
Further, the carrier has given an extension to at least three retired officers even though a part of the cost-cutting plan was not to give such extensions to employees, other than those in critical jobs such as pilots and engineers.
“V.A. Ferreira, director, human resources, Rakesh Kapoor, general manager, finance and P.P. Singh, Air India Express chief, had given extension of their service. Their service ended on 30 September,” said an Air India executive, who did not want to be identified.
Jitender Bhargava, executive director, corporate communications, did not return calls made to him.
On Thursday, Air India said it began the day “with a bang” by resuming all its domestic flights at an average network-wide on-time performance rate of 89.7%.
A spokesman for Air India said that ticket sales for all flights, which were suspended during the strike, has been resumed.
The state-owned carrier has also introduced new and special deals for low fares to attract passengers back.
However, travel agents were unaware about this development.
“Nothing is updated in our system. No circulars, too. This may be a stimulating techique introduced by Jet Airways in the past,” said Regi Philip, a travel agent who runs Cosmos Agencies in Mumbai.
Air India flew 14,000 passengers against the 30,000 that it was booked to fly on the last day of the strike, Jadhav said earlier.