Salaries of Air India pilots will depend on which type of aircraft they fly — narrow-bodied or wide-bodied — and not on whether they belong to erstwhile Air India or Indian Airlines, if the suggestions of the Justice Dharmadikari Committee report, made public by minister of civil aviation Ajit Singh on Friday, are accepted.
The report also links payment of pilots to the number of hours they fly and to a fixed allowance.
The union of the 450 striking pilots, the Indian Pilots Guild, or IPG, rejected the suggestions and called the Dharmadhikari report biased and prejudiced. “The report is tailor made to suit the interests of employees of erstwhile Indian Airlines. It reinforces the bias and prejudice that the management harbours against the employees of erstwhile Air India vis- a-vis erstwhile Indian Airlines,” an IPG spokesperson said. The pilots of erstwhile Air India are on strike, and have opposed the training of Indian Airlines pilots on Dreamliner aircraft, which are wide-bodied.
The report was given in January this year. The civil aviation ministry has decided to have a four-member Implementation-cum-Anomaly Committee on the Dharmadhikari recommendations. It is to be chaired by a director from the ministry, Syed Nasir Ali. The panel is to seek the views of all sections of employees on how to go about the job. It will have one member each from the erstwhile IA and the erstwhile AI.
“The committee has recommended that pilots, engineers and technicians below them servicing narrow-body aircraft should be paid differently from those on wide-body aircraft,” said minister Ajit Singh. The erstwhile IA had operated on all domestic and short-haul international routes, primarily with narrow-body aircraft. And, the pre-merger AI plied on long-haul international routes, with wide-body aircraft.
It may be noted that a primary demand of the AI pilots on international routes, on strike for more than three weeks, has been to stop the training of pilots from the erstwhile IA to ply the new Dreamliner aircraft. These planes are built for long-haul plying.
The minister said the Dharmadhikari report had projected a saving of Rs 250 crore from AI’s annual wage bill of Rs 3,000 crore during the first year itself. The savings would mainly be from changing of rules, such as a flying allowance based on actual hours flown, not a pre-fixed amount. And, curtailing the list of staff dependents who could avail of free travel tickets.
The report has also recognised the need for certain allowances given to a certain class of employees like pilots, cabin crew and engineers, in line with industry standards. This will probably have to be approved by the Cabinet.
On the pilots’ strike, the minister made it clear there would be “cross-utilisation” of all resources, including personnel, to allow a fair opportunity to everyone as a matter of policy in the merged entity at all levels, including cross-training at various levels. He reiterated that the pilots’ concerns would be taken up only after they called off the strike unconditionally. The 25-day strike has cost AI about Rs 330 crore in revenue till now.
Debt rejig cuts losses
Meanwhile, AI says it has been able to reduce its losses to Rs 5 crore a day from Rs 15 crore earlier, due to the earlier restructuring of its debt. “Our monthly interest outlay has come down to Rs 25 crore from Rs 250 crore earlier and the rest of the losses have been covered through improved performance, bringing our losses down to Rs 5 crore a day,” said chairman & managing director Rohit Nandan.
He said the banks had restructured debt of Rs 22,000 crore. Of this, around Rs 12,000 crore was converted to long-term debt, at a lower interest rate of 11 per cent, with a payment moratorium till October. Another Rs 3,000 crore was converted into cash credit and the rest is to be returned to the banks through a bond issue.
“We are working on our bond issue, which will be launched soon,” Nandan said.
The carrier had accumulated losses of Rs 20,000 crore and has to show an operational profit by the end of this financila year, and net profit by 2018, according to the turnaround plan.