More AI pilots plan to report sick today

More AI pilots plan to report sick today

Mumbai: Less than a month after receiving a government bailout, national flag carrier Air India Ltd is in trouble again. More Air India pilots on international routes plan to report sick on Wednesday, even as the management hardens its stance against the militant fliers.

The guild is demanding that training on the Boeing 787, popularly known as the Dreamliner, be restricted to pilots belonging to the erstwhile Air India, which was merged in 2007 with Indian Airlines into a new entity called National Aviation Co. of India Ltd and which was later renamed Air India Ltd.

The Supreme Court had intervened in the matter and ruled that an equal number of pilots from Air India and Indian Airlines should receive training in flying the Dreamliner. But the union maintains that the aircraft were ordered before the merger and so only Air India pilots should receive training on them.

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Mint’s P.R. Sanjai says Air India is coping with a crisis once again, with many of its pilots calling in sick to protest over a decision to allow pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines to train on Boeing Dreamliner aircraft

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The induction of 27 Dreamliner aircraft was one of the highlights of the April revival package for Air India, which is to receive an equity infusion of 30,000 crore over nine years.

Following the latest impasse, Air India had to cancel at least five international flights, but the number of cancellations may only rise with more pilots not reporting for duty on Wednesday.

Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said the strike is illegal because no notice of the labour action had been served and asked the pilots to return to duty.

“The government cannot pour money (into the airline) continuously," he said. “Air India is still on the verge of bankruptcy and it cannot pay its employees and other vendors. And whatever money promised by the government is not at one go, but...with many checkpoints."

Air India has seen multiple industrial disputes in the last four years and lost 200 crore due to a pilots’ strike in May 2011.

Hormuz P. Mama, an expert in the aviation business, said the latest pilot action was unwise given that Air India is still tottering. In a worst-case scenario, pilots would still find jobs, but other airline personnel may not in a tough aviation market, he added.

“We have already deregistered the Indian Pilots’ Guild as a union and sealed their offices. We are going to take stringent action against all the pilots who reported sick," said Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India. Asked about a possible compromise, Nandan said he was open to discussing the matter with union representatives, “but we want complete and unconditional withdrawal of strike before any discussion".

According to a late-night media statement, Air India is shortly inducting Dreamliners into its fleet. The statement said the pilots first threatened such action on 4 May, but the management continued a dialogue with the Indian Pilots’ Guild up to 7 May.

“On 7 May evening, once again the pilots chose to deliberately damage the image and reputation of the company by disrupting flights by proceeding on mass sick leave. This most extreme and irresponsible agitation aimed at disrupting flight schedules, inflicting inconvenience on our esteemed passengers, and damaging the company’s image and reputation has been viewed most seriously by the airline," the statement said.

Air India is making efforts to operate some schedules with the non-unionized category of pilots, it added, in addition to efforts to accommodate disrupted flight passengers on other airlines.

Indian Pilots’ Guild president Jeetendra Awhad countered that the Air India management was not open to talks and there was no meeting scheduled. “We have 450 members under the Indian Pilots’ Guild. Today, there were more than 200 pilots who reported sick. In next two days, more pilots will report sick," he said.

pr.sanjai@livemint.com

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