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Monday, July 2, 2012

ailing Air India, fasting Pilots and the one who took his mother on board

Aeroplane is a great wonder and still one looks gapingly at the sky when an aircraft passes by ! – a few decades ago, only rich flew by air.  In PSU and Govt, only the top bureaucrats were allowed air-travel officially. In Cinemas, when landing of a flight was shown, it was much talked about.

Life has changed – now there are so much of traffic at airports and you see so many flights connecting even obscure places.  It is no longer the domain of Govt – many private players entered and what did the competition do ? – not enhancement of service quality, the prices dropped – in the mad race, many things went awry – at a premium sector, which dealt with rich and Corporates who would not mind % hikes – many airlines have suffered huge losses and couple have gone bust….. what ails the industry is not too difficult to understand, though the ones of the National carrier are more complex !

The flag carrier airline of India ‘Air India’ is in deep trouble. Air India is part of the government of India owned Air India Limited (AIL). The airline operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft serving Asia, Europe and North America. Its corporate office is located at the Air India Building at Nariman Point in South Mumbai. Air India has the fourth largest share in India's domestic air travel market, behind Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet, as of May 2012.  After its merger with Indian Airlines, Air India has faced multiple problems, including escalating financial losses, discontent amongst employees, and poor customer service.  April 2012, the Indian government granted another bailout package to Air India, including Rs300 billion ($5.8 billion) of subsidies.

A section of its employees are on strike – far too long, it is close to 60 days attaining the notorious distinction of becoming the second longest strike in the country’s aviation history.  The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), the union of Air India pilots, had also struck work in 1974 against cost cutting measures when fuel prices shot up alarmingly.  The 1974 strike lasted for well over 90 days. In 1993-94, a strike by Air India flight engineers lasted for 56 days.  The current strike started on 8 May when pilot members of IPG went on mass sick leave.  The  current strike started on 8 May when pilot members of IPG went on mass sick leave, protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines. After putting forth an original list of 14 demands, the aviators are now asking for reinstatement of their 101 sacked colleagues.

The airline has maintained that pilots must first end their strike and the sacked pilots will be reinstated on a case-by-case basis. Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had told that pilots must end the illegal strike first.  It is reported that the losses so caused are to the tune of 600 crore + - grounded fleet of Boeing 777s, unused manpower and absence from key routes have hit the airlines’ chances of a financial turnaround.  The strike has crippled Air India’s international operations, stranding thousands set to fly to East Asia and the Middle East.

Despite all that it is stated that Air India has carried three percent more passengers between June 1 and June 20 from a year ago ; the passenger revenue also had increased by 5%  than the previous year.

A group of the  striking pilots  started an indefinite hunger strike since 24 June. Nearly five of 11 fasting pilots have been hospitalised.  Some accounts narrate that there could be a  rerun of the Baba Ramdev fiasco when police swooped down on the yoga man’s anti-corruption rally at midnight last year. The Delhi Police have since been hauled up the excessive use of force.  The striking pilots allege that the AI management sent out two doctors on Wednesday to check on them and they have advised forcible feeding of at least two hungry pilots whose condition has deteriorated.

Clearly things are not well for the ailing Air India………. Elsewhere in an unrelated issue, comes the news that a pilot of an Air India passenger plane seated his mother in the cockpit for a domestic flight, refusing to take off without her after he could not get her a free ticket.  The pilot allegedly demanded that his mother be issued a "dummy boarding card" at Pune airport  and placed her in a jump seat reserved for the crew for the two-hour flight to the capital New Delhi.  Newspaper reports suggest that the pilot threatened that he would not fly without his mother.  The pilot said that his mother was sick and he could not leave her at the airport, the paper reported.

Air India pilots are allowed some free tickets for themselves and family members subject to seat availability. The duty manager's report recorded that the fully-booked flight, with 122 passengers on board, was delayed for 20 minutes because of the incident.

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.

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