The Government appears to be going around in circles over exactly how many pilots it needs to run Air India efficiently.
Till last month, Civil Aviation Ministry officials were asserting that the airline does not need the 750 odd long haul pilots it has on its rolls right now—this number includes pilots affiliated to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), AI Express pilots and Executive Pilots.
But now with the prospect of striking pilots joining back work, there seems to be utter confusion over what is the number which is optimal.
“Air India management is itself confused over pilot requirements. So Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh has now asked the airline to prepare a detailed presentation on how many pilots are needed for each aircraft type.Also, he has asked about how many ICPA (narrow body) pilots will be flying the Dreamliners and how many new short haul pilots will therefore need to be additionally recruited. All these details are expected next week,” official sources told Firstpost.
Last month, ministry officials had said that only about 450 pilots were required for smooth international operations of AI. As of June this year, AI owns 20 B777 aircraft, 3 B747-400 besides 2 A330-200 on dry lease. This means it can operate 27 wide body aircraft.
On the narrow body operation, it owns 12 A 320s, 19 A319s and 20 A321s or 51 aircraft of the A320 family and another 11 through a combination of sale & lease back and dry lease. Regional operations are done through 4 CRJ-700 and 7 ATR42, all of which are leased.
Then, the first three B 787 Dreamliners are expected by August this year and this will again alter pilot requirements. For the first few weeks, these aircraft would be used to fly domestic routes but thereafter AI could deploy them on medium haul routes such as Malaysia and Australia.
The sources said since requirements of pilots differ for each aircraft type, the minister has sought details aircraft wise and also how the matrix will change with the arrival of the Dreamliners.
AI had sacked 101 IPG pilots after they refused to operate flights and now, even though all IPG pilots have reported back to work, the airline and the IPG are still at war over reinstatement of these 101 sacked pilots. The Civil Aviation Minister had said in the past that sacked pilots would be taken back on a case-to-case basis and this line of thought still has not changed.
Aviation experts say if AI management does take this bold step of reducing the number of pilots drastically, it will be sending out a message to other employees that the government will be tough on those who jeopardize operations at a time when the airline is struggling for survival and has just received a Rs 30,000 crore bail out package.
Besides, many of the IPG pilots anyway stand to lose their licenses 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.
The airline has asked pilots to submit medical reports for the last two months when they did not report for work. Verification of the two-month long sickness and related tests and reports may take long and in some cases, licenses could be suspended. As per Rule 42 (2) of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, fresh medical examination is needed if a pilot has not reported for work for 15 days or more due to sickness or injury.
During the strike period, AI lost about Rs 700 crore in revenue as 70% of its capacity of international routes remained unutilized.