Air India pilots on war path, 30 senior Dreamliner pilots leave

About 30 senior Boeing 787 Dreamliner pilots are reported to have resigned from Air India in quick succession even as one of the major pilots unions has served notice on the national carrier demanding immediate recall of a notification that has removed commanders from the workmen category.

Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), in a legal notice sent to Air India executive director for personnel and industrial relation Deepa Mahajan, has warned of dragging it to court and resorting to industrial action if the notification was not taken back, prompting the management to request the union to maintain "peace and harmony" in the interest of the organisation.

The controversial notification issued by Mahajan on 20 August, cites a clarification by the ministry of labour and employment to state that the role of the 'pilot in command' at Air India is of a managerial and administrative post and may not fall under the definition of workmen.

"You are called upon to forthwith recall this purported notification and to clear the unnecessary confusion that the circulation of this notification has created.

"That failing, my client shall be left with no alternative but to take legal action against you as signatory of the notification and initiate industrial action against the company, the cost and consequences of which shall be to your peril," ICPA lawyer Sanjoy Ghose said in the notice.

Air India, which is surviving on a bailout package funded by taxpayer money, claims to have spent around Rs15 crore on training these pilots on its Dreamliner jet three years back, but has no means to recover it if they choose to leave.

The pilots are free to leave at will in the absence of a security bond or any contractual obligation to stay back.

This is especially so as the company has been deducting 25 per cent of their pay allowances for last three years.

Most pilots have already completed their training and are flying the 787, although training can be extended for a few months. However, the pilots are unlikely to agree to fill any such bond.

Those senior co-pilots who have quit Air India have 4,000 hours of average flying experience. Two of them have already joined SpiceJet and are reported to be undergoing their command training in South Africa.

In a separate communication to Air India director for operations, ICPA had alleged "its members were under immense stress due to the management's habitual way of breaking the law and total mismanagement."

ICPA, which has a strength of 670 members belonging to erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots, said, "The frequent changes in programmed flights and pull outs at short notice due to the acute shortage of pilots are adding to the already increased stress levels leading to severe fatigue conditions endangering flight safety."

However, Air India says the decision to remove commanders from workmen category was taken by the labour ministry and not by the airline management.

The airline's management says the pilots' union has taken the law into it hands by issuing the notice even after the clarification given by the ministry of labour and employment.

"You are requested to maintain peace and harmony in the interest of organisation as a whole," Mahajan said.