In another setback to Air India’s striking pilots, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh on Wednesday said the state-run airline would hire replacements and normalise its international operations to the earlier level by November.
Around 300 pilots, who operate long-haul international flights, are not reporting to duty. “We have 111 executive pilots and 60 pilots under training. We will be sending another 30 pilots for training. Air India will issue advertisements to hire expat (foreign) pilots. With this, the entire original network of 27 (foreign) stations shall be not only fully restored but expanded,” said Singh.
The only hope left for the agitating pilots is that they can also apply for the jobs. “Sacked pilots could apply, but there are certain rules in the public sector for re-application and they will have to follow that. The pilots will also have to undergo medical examination,” he added.
The stir has been on for a month and the revenue loss has been Rs 350 crore. Of the 300, as many as 101 pilots have been dismissed from service.
With the hiring, the airline plans to normalise its international operations to cover the entire original AI network By November, when the winter schedule begins, they hope to expand it further. “Flights to Hong Kong, Osaka, Toronto and Seoul, stopped when the strike began and would be restored over the next few months. Hong Kong would be connected by a narrow-body Airbus A-319 from July and this service would be extended to Osaka and Seoul from August,” Singh said.
He added that AI’s international passenger traffic, with its truncated flight schedule, had reached about 11,000 a day, 2,000-3,000 less than normal. Its domestic traffic had reached the pre-strike level of 26,000 passengers per day.
Singh said the pilots would have no place in the airline if they were unwilling to accept the Dharmadhikari committee report on redressing the various problems created by the messy merger of the erstwhile Indian Airlines with Air India some years before. Some of these issues had led to the strike and the pilots have already said they’ve rejected the Dharmadhikari recommendations. “We have formed a committee which will talk to employees and find out if there are anomalies. Issues related to allowances will be referred to the (Union) cabinet. Seniority lines of pilots and engineers will remain separate. The pilots should show patience,” said the minister.
He added that conciliation with the agitating pilots was not possible, as they had disregarded the government and even the courts. The Delhi High Court had termed the strike illegal, with the one at Mumbai giving a like ruling. Singh had announced more than once that the grievances of the pilots would be heard only if they ended the strike.
Singh is also confident that there are enough pilots to fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners and that the airline would be adding flights to Kuala Lumpur and Australia in the next two-three months.
On AI’s international plan, Singh said it included starting a new flight to Kuala Lumpur, using the Boeing 787 on the Mumbai-London sector from August and launching of Australia operations from August-September with these new planes. “The first Dreamliner would operate on domestic routes for six to eight weeks to train pilots for takeoffs and landings, before it is used to operate the Mumbai-London sector in August,” he said.