Air India's contingency plan was disrupted after 30 of its 120 executive pilots, deployed by the national carrier to run its international flying operations in the wake of the pilots' strike, reported sick, reports said Wednesday.
Air India's Airbus A321 and Boeing 777-200 LR aircrafts are on display at the tarmac of Mumbai airport July 30, 2007.
Air India has been running on a contingency plan, scaling down its international operations, ever since 400 pilots, owing allegiance to the now de-recognized Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), went on strike May 8.
The executive pilots, who normally handle the ground and managerial operations, are not allowed to go on strike as they are part of the management.
However, the executive pilots on flying duty have been complaining of exhaustion from excessive work pressure. In a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh last week, they mentioned that operating flights was now taking a toll on them and could compromise flight safety as a result, PTI news agency reported.
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A delegation of executive pilots met Air India chairman-cum-managing director Rohit Nandan Wednesday, urging him to end the impasse over the pilots' strike.
"We have said to the CMD that this problem (strike) should end. He assured he was ready to take back the pilots but the matter is stuck with taking back of the 10 executive committee members of the now de-recognized Indian Pilots Guild," said a pilot, according to PTI.
However, Nandan said that the airline was following the flight duty time limitation guidelines. He said that prior to the strike, an executive pilot was doing 72 hours a month while now it is only 64 hours.
Another AI official, quoted by the Business Line, chose to downplay the reports of the executive pilots calling in sick.
"Even when there was no pilot agitation, it was normal for about 11 executive pilots to report sick. Right now we have a situation where some of the executive pilots do not have passports and hence cannot be put on international flights. In addition, at least two executive pilots have cancer patients in their houses to look after," a senior airline official said, according to the report.
Meanwhile, trouble continues to plague passengers flying Air India, as private operators are exploiting the situation by hiking their fares and Air India struggles to maintain the schedules. The government of the South Indian state of Kerala said that it would consider availing chartered flights to clear the rush created by the Air India cancelations. Millions of people from Kerala are employed in the Middle East. July and August, which are holiday months for schools in the Middle East, see maximum traffic to Kerala.
"We are going to Delhi and will meet the civil aviation minister to (tell him about) the inconvenience caused to Keralites in the Middle East who are waiting to come to the state. We have asked the (central government) to see if chartered flights can be operated to and from the Middle East on normal rates," Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy was quoted as saying by IANS news agency.