Two pilot unions at Air India have claimed that there is a shortage of pilots to operate the airline’s long-haul and ultra-long-haul flights. The concerns raised by the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) also come against the backdrop of the Tatas-owned airline recently cancelling and rescheduling certain flights to and from THE North American region due to crew shortage.
The unions represent pilots from both the narrow-body Airbus and wide-body Boeing fleets. The unions’ main grouse relates to increased flying duties, leave denials, and refusal to revert to pre-Covid overtime pay among others.
In a joint letter written to Air India’s Chief Human Resources Officer Suresh Dutt Tripathi on December 13, the unions said, “…we cannot maintain the printed planned roster due to a shortage of pilots, as CMS (crew management system) does not have standby pilots.”
There was no immediate comment from Air India on the letter. While IPG represents pilots of wide-body planes, ICPA represents those operating narrow-body aircraft. According to the unions, the number of leave denials and cancellations for pilots is also staggering.
Further, it has questioned the airline’s decision to hire ex-pat pilots for the Boeing 777 fleet at a CTC (cost to company) that is “at least 80% higher with significantly higher leave benefits than what is being provided to its long-serving pilots.”
“Since early 2022, the management has steadily but strongly enhanced the flying schedule. The under-crewed pilot workforce enthusiastically supported these expansion plans by accommodating constant roster changes and repeated pullouts, even on off days,” the letter said.
Tata group took over loss-making Air India in January this year and has been working on expanding services as well as the fleet. “Though management might refute the charges of crew shortage in public, the reality is there for everyone to see. On all fleets, and especially on the 777 fleets, pilots have flown well over 90 hours per month consecutively,” it said.
They alleged that “more often than not, the schedule is managed, keeping the paperwork in order while the regulatory FDTL (Flight Duty Time Limitation) may have been undermined… we will be forced to take steps by involving regulatory authorities to end this.”
Besides, the pilots’ unions have flagged that the airline is yet to restore certain components of the pay structure that were there before the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have aided in bringing Air India to the number one position in the on-time performance rankings, yet there is no appreciation by the management. At the very least, a company with such major expansion plans should have restored the pre-Covid overtime rates,” it stated.
Pilots working with Air India have also warned of non-co-operation if restoration of pre-Covid overtime allowance is delayed, and if other practices they say are ‘discriminatory’ continues.
“We cannot assure that our members will undertake flying duties exceeding 70 hours a month. Any coercive action by the management will lead to industrial action to safeguard flight safety and the well-being of our members,” the Indian Commercial Pilots Association and the Indian Pilots Guild said in a joint letter to Air India’s management.
Earlier this month, Air India graduated its first batch of cabin crew trainees and new pilots since privatization. The batch of 215 cabin crew and 48 pilots, all Indian nationals, have received their wings and are now ready to be deployed to operate as fully-qualified crew. Most of these crew members will join the airline’s A320 fleet.
Cabin Crew Shortage Hits Ultra Long Haul Flights of Air India
Earlier it was reported that Cabin crew constraints are impacting Air India’s ultra-long-haul flights, with the Tatas-owned carrier deciding to either reschedule or cancel certain services to San Francisco and Vancouver, according to airline sources.
Recently, Air India had to delay at least six flights to US and Canada due to the unavailability of cabin crew. It was believed that flights were getting stuck due to engineering issues. The airline is doing everything in its hands to resolve this crunch of cabin crew. It has even tried to bring back the crew who had applied for voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) earlier in November.
The sources said the airline is either delaying departures or cancelling some of its ultra-long-haul flights amid cabin crew shortages and the situation is resulting in inconvenience to passengers in this peak winter travel season. Generally, ultra-long-haul flights are those having duration of more than 16 hours.
Amid a long waiting period for US visas, the airline has been facing a shortage of cabin crew and senior pilots for ultra-long-haul flights. In the wake of the cabin crew crunch, Air India had recently given an option to its cabin crew who had opted for its voluntary retirement scheme to extend their release date from the services by up to January 31, 2023.