NEW DELHI: In a major retreat from its earlier stance, as India’s national airline Air India prepares to induct three of the much-awaited Boeing 787 aircraft this August, the government and the airline management are reconsidering their earlier decision of inducting only half of the 450 pilots who had gone on strike this May.
Till early this month, the civil aviation ministry was clear that the airline would need about 450 pilots for its long-haul operations, down from the pre-strike number of 750.
But with a group of ministers headed by home minister P Chidambaram deciding on July 25 the compensation amount that American aircraft manufacturer Boeing needs to pay to Air India for delaying the B-787s, there seems to be confusion over how many commanders would be required to pilot Air India’s aircraft fleet.
“Air India management is itself confused over pilot requirements. So civil aviation minister Ajit Singh has asked (the management) to prepare a detailed presentation on how many pilots are needed for each aircraft type,” a senior ministry official told ET.
The minister has also asked about the number of erstwhile Indian Airlines or narrow-body aircraft type-rated pilots trained to fly the Dreamliners and how many new short-haul pilots will be additionally recruited.
“All these details are expected next week,” he said. Until early July, the ministry and Air India had decided that they would curtail the airline’s loss-making international operations, which would require them to downsize their pilot workforce.
This was contemplated in the wake of the two-month-long pilots’ strike, which caused 70% of Air India’s overseas operations to be grounded.
However, as 27 B-787s are slated to join by 2016 and there is a shortage of commanders, there is a rethink on the requirement of pilots.
For the first few weeks after arrival, these aircraft would be used to fly domestic routes but, thereafter, AI could deploy them on medium-haul routes such as Malaysia and Australia.
AI had sacked 101 pilots affiliated to the striking union Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) after they refused to operate flights and even though all IPG pilots have reported back to work, the airline and the agitators are at war over reinstatement of these pilots.
The civil aviation minister had said in the past that the sacked pilots would be taken back on a case-to-case basis and this line of thought still has not changed.
Besides, many of the IPG pilots anyway stand to lose their licences if they are unable to clear the medical tests the airline will subject them to before allowing them to operate flights. IPG pilots struck work for 59 days and even now, not a single IPG pilot has been able to begin flying due to medical and other reasons.