Mumbai: Fending off the Air India executive pilots’ warning that their stressful schedules could compromise safety, Aviation Minister Ajit Singh today said the government will not take any chance on safety even as he stuck to his guns on the 43-day-old strike by a section of pilots.
“The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) very strictly enforces the rules on flight duty time limitation. So there is no question of stressing any pilot. No chance will be taken as far as safety is concerned,” he told reporters in Mumbai.
Singh, who was on a two-day maiden visit to the city since he took over as the aviation minister last December, reviewed the progress of various airport development projects underway in Maharashtra with Chief Minister Prithiviraj Chavan, including the on-going modernisation of the Mumbai
Airport as well as the proposed airport in Navi Mumbai.
Last week, executive pilots of the national carrier claimed they had shot off a letter to Singh, stating that they could not maintain the truncated international flight schedules for too long as they were fatigued and did not want to jeopardise lives of passengers and crew.
However, Singh denied receiving any such official letter and said, “there was an unsigned letter and we really don’t know who wrote it”.
As to what was the rationale behind not having a dialogue with the striking pilots but instead hiring expats who are paid two to 2-3 more than local pilots, he said, “We have not decided whether expats are to be hired or who to be trained. The Air India management is looking at it.”
He maintained that Air India is making a new business plan, which will stipulate how many pilots are required, and said requirement will also be based on the norms laid down by the civil aviation regulator.
Reiterating his stand on the 43-day-old strike by over 400 pilots owing allegiance to the now derecognised Indian Pilots Guild, Singh said he is open to talks provided the agitators came back to work without any riders.
“I have said it time and again that they should get back to work, and there will be no victimisation. (But) now we have reached a stage where I don’t think pilots want to come back to work.”
Stating that the Mumbai airport is a land-constrained one and there is a need to utilise the land in a “judicious and cautious” manner, Singh said he also discussed with Chavan how the Juhu airstrip can be used by the main airport so that some load on it can be taken off.
He, however, did not give any timeline for complete rehabilitation of the slum dwellers, who are being evicted to release the land near the airport for development work.
Chavan said the state government has given an in-principle approval for land acquisition for the proposed new international airport at Chakan in Pune.