New Delhi: Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh Monday wrote to employees of the strike-hit Air India, urging them to be focused on the national carrier’s survival and revival plans even as the airline mulled the option of sacking 300 more striking pilots.
In an appreciation letter to executive pilots, who are currently managing most of Air India’s international flights, the minister underlined the vulnerability of Air India to even slightest irresponsible and agitational act of one or other section of the employees. “…. (it) may lead to raising of eyebrows about utility and necessity of Air India and infusion of public money to ensure its survival,” he wrote, adding, “The government’s approval (for revival) has come with conditions that specified benchmarks will be achieved in a time bound manner.”
Air India has already sacked 101 pilots. It has also advertised for hiring new pilots.
“The pilots are on an illegal strike since May. How long do they (pilots) expect us to wait for them to resume duty? If the situation remains the same, then the rest (300) of the pilots may also be terminated. But this decision will be taken by the Air India management,” Ajit Singh said, adding, “Not only has the illegal strike caused severe losses to the airline, but also wavered the trust of passengers from Air India. If they want to come back, then they are welcome.”
Contacted for comments, the striking aviators said they are studying the situation.
“We are looking at the situation. We all are together in this and our unity would not break. Our only demand right now is the reinstatement of our sacked colleagues and recognition of our union,” a senior committee member of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) — the now de-recognised union — said.
Earlier, the Air India management had sacked 101 pilot-members of the IPG. Representing aviators of the erstwhile Air India, the IPG went on strike May 8 against the move to train their counterparts from Indian Airlines on the soon-to-be-inducted Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The airline on its part has advertised on its website for hiring of new pilots for a contractual period of five years.
The advertisements call for both commanders and co-pilots, who can operate Boeing 777s, 747s and 737s. The applicants will have to go through an interview and flight simulator tests in Mumbai.
The airline has set July 23 as the closure for hiring process. Air India expects to hire nearly 100 pilots, who will pool in with 90 more trainee pilots to meet the shortfall in the manpower.
However, it will take Air India nearly four-five months to get the trainee pilots trained as well as provide orientation to the new joinees. Currently, the fleet of Boeing’s ultra-long haul aircraft are being operated by executive pilots.
Ajit Singh last week said that Air India will go ahead and hire new pilots to tackle the prolonged strike that has crippled the international operations of the national carrier.
The 35-day long strike has severely hit Air India’s international operations, with the airline only operating 38 from the original 45 services. Among the seven axed international destinations are Hong Kong, Osaka, Seoul and Toronto. “Operations to northeast Asia have been hit badly, so have US and European services. Under the new scheme of things, we are trying to mitigate losses by operating to key destinations only,” an Air India official said.