Air India pilots fail to take private airlines' bait

In spite of going on a strike to protest a proposed cut in incentive payments, Air India pilots are clearly unwilling to abandon the cushy prospects of belonging to a government-owned airline. Reports quoting airline officials say that private airlines offered jobs to at least 60, and possibly up to 200, senior pilots during the recent strike, but could not lure them away.

Under a government mandate, India's private airlines have to replace nearly 900 foreign pilots, including 686 seniors, by July next year. While hundreds of junior pilots in India are looking for jobs, there is a shortage of senior flyers at commander level. Forays on Air India's pilots are therefore likely to continue.

In a similar scenario in 1990, the national carrier had to increase the pay of the pilots to retain their services. This was met by introducing the productivity-linked incentive, which ensured that the pilots of the national carrier are paid more than the pilots in the private carriers.

The airline would therefore have to pull a delicate juggling act - if it is to cut costs to manageable levels, it must cut senior pilots' salaries; but this might lay them open to poaching by other airlines.

Management firm on PLI cuts
However, Air India seems adamant that all employees must accept a lower PLI, despite the strike over the issue by executive pilots that crippled the airline for almost five days over the last weekend.

A newly-formed official committee to look into the problems of Air India employees would begin meetings with at least 14 unions representing a cross-section of staffers including pilots from next week. The panel, which is a sub-committee of the Air India Board, was set up on Tuesday, following which the executive pilots withdrew their agitation.