Private airlines are enjoying a “preferential treatment” by the Centre as the country’s aviation sector show signs of recovery, two pilots’ body associated with the state-owned flight carrier alleged, while calling for a review in their pandemic-induced pay cuts.
“[The private carriers’] recovery is generously helped by preferential treatment in terms of number of flights allotted to them vis-a-vis Air India,” Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) and Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) claimed in a joint letter addressed to Union Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday, November 2.
Air India, operated by Air India Limited, is currently fully owned by the Government of India. ICPA represents the pilots flying Air India’s narrow-body aircraft; IPG represents those who fly wide-body aircraft of the national carrier.
The associations were requesting the Ministry to convene an “urgent meeting” to reverse the pay cuts that were introduced in the month of April this year when the country was under a nationwide lockdown with passenger flight services being brought to a grinding halt. According to the bodies, the proposed changes had since then translated into a salary cut of almost 60% in gross emoluments to the pilots.
In addition to this, “a drastic reduction in flying vis-a-vis private carriers has greatly diminished our livelihoods,” the letter said, adding that it is building on the stress of the pilots “who struggle to meet the needs of their children’s education or ailing elderly parents.”
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The bodies have already met twice Minister Puri twice – in July and August – regarding the same.
Domestic air travel resumed in the country – after a two month hiatus – in the last week of May, with the industry regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) capping flights at 60% of the originally approved summer schedule.
Subsequently, the winter schedule – released last month – that will remain effective till March next year, saw clearance to around 44% of domestic flights as compared to their numbers last year.
Praveen Keerthi, general secretary, ICPA questioned the view of restricting the state-owned carrier from flying more at a time when a huge manpower is currently on its payroll. “They keep on accusing Air India of putting tax payers’ money at a loss. Well, why aren’t we allowed to fly more as domestic air traffic is also registering a jump,” he asked, while speaking with NewsClick.
Data from DGCA earlier had shown that 39.43 lakh people took to the air in September as compared to 28.32 lakh in August – an increase that is highest since the lockdown.
India currently has eight flight carriers, with Indigo leading the market. “The private players are witnessing an increased load factor due to high number of flight allocations to them, and are therefore generating revenue,” Keerthi said, adding that it has also allowed them to scale back their pandemic-triggered austerity measures.
Indeed, Indigo recently reduced the leave without pay (LWP) for its pilots from monthly 10 days in July to three days in November.
Keerthi reasoned that only if the Centre allowed more Air India flights to operate, it will help greatly in the airline’s recovery, and thereby allow for reviewing the pay cuts for the pilots of Air India as well as its subsidiaries.
The grievances of the Air India pilots resurfaces at a time when the Centre is struggling to put an end to its 100% disinvestment process, as it is failing to attract any buyers. Last week, for yet another time, the bidding parameters were revised reportedly to sweeten the deal to entice suitors.