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AI to train pilots for Boeing 787 in Singapore

Aneesh Phadnis  |  Mumbai 

Air India

Union warns of stir, as move raises hackles on IA parity.

Air India will train its pilots in Singapore for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, due for delivery from December. The move is sparking a protest from one of its pilots’ unions, on promotion issues.

Beginning this week, about 30 pilots (drawn equally from AI and the erstwhile Indian Airlines) go to Singapore for training on simulators. The government carrier is going ahead with this although acquisition of the planes is formally still awaiting a government okay.

"The training will take 15-30 days. Those selected are senior captains and first officers from Boeing 747, Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 fleets. The training slots have kept in mind the delivery schedule. Following the simulator training, the pilots will take a check flight with pilots from Boeing,'' an airline source said. Initially, about 70 AI pilots would be trained. "Boeing is also providing a simulator to Air India. It’s a part of the aircraft acquisition deal,'' he added. However the decision to hand over the simulator hinges on the airline's decision to take the deliveries.

While the airline management has approved the cockpit crew training and has also inducted about 150 cabin crew on three-year contracts, it has to battle a new controversy ahead of the induction of the planes. Members of the Indian Pilots Guild , the union representing AI pilots before the merger with Indian Airlines, are opposing the management's decision to also select erstwhile IA pilots for the Boeing 787. It may file a peition in the courts and is also threatening a strike.

"There is a lot of heartburn among our pilots. We feel our promotions and career progression will get affected if erstwhile IA pilots are selected for the training. The Boeing 787 was being selected for AI before its merger and IA opted for 43 Airbus A320 planes. Only ex-IA pilots fly these Airbus planes and their career progression was not affected. We feel we are being discriminated against,'' said an IPG member. The airline management is expected to meet the union in the next few days on the issue.

This unresolved issue of human resource integration, part of a wider problem across the merged entity, could mean little or perhaps no cross-utilisation of pilots. Crew of AI and IA may not fly in the same cockpit or on the same routes. For, there is still no commonality in hierarchy, seniority, pay scales and allowances for pilots and the other work force.

"IA pilots have been told they may have to wait till March to fly the Boeing 787,'' a commander said, hinting that AI pilots would fly the first plane (the second is due in March). “Even now, two separate wage agreements are in force for two pilots’ unions. There is no parity,” another pilot complained. The pay parity issue led to a section of pilots striking work in May. Following this, the airline appointed the Dharmadhikari committee to look into the issue of pay parity. The report is due by November-end.

AI has not yet announced the destinations where it would operate the new plane and has not begun sales and marketing promotions to push up bookings for the new service. "The destinations will be the same as where we fly now. The 787 can be deployed to London, Paris, Singapore, Hong Kong or Tokyo,”' a senior AI official said.

Adding: “We had ordered the planes six years ago. If we don't take deliveries now, we will have to wait for nearly a decade which is the waiting period for new deliveries of the 787.”

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First Published: Mon, October 31 2011. 00:58 IST