Transportation Updates

Air India Pilots Threaten Immediate Industrial Action

After multiple reminders, Air India pilots issued a final warning to AI management on November 29th, threatening possible disruption of services from December 1st if their salary demands are not met. This comes at a time when the carrier is in the final stages of its transition to becoming a private entity. While the pilots appreciate the change of ownership, they are demanding the current management to pay them their long-standing dues.

Air India pilots have warned of possible flight disruptions if their salary demands are not met. Photo: Getty Images

Final warning

Air India’s two pilot unions – the Indian Pilot Guild (IPG) and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) – demanded immediate rollback of their salary cut on Monday. The unions warned AI’s management of “industrial action” if their demands were not met within three days. Industrial action could mean an indefinite strike or strictly going by the rule book on timing and guidelines, which could affect operations.

The pilots cited examples of other airlines rolling back pay cuts and resumption of international travel in India. The letter addressed to the airline’s management said,

“With the resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to/ from India from December 15th, 2021, and all airlines rolling back the COVID cut, if we do not see the issues related to an illegal pay cut of 55 per cent and the plethora of longstanding disinvestment issues addressed within three days we will have no choice but to seek justice through ‘Industrial Action’.”

Air India Crew
Air India pilots want a rollback of salary cuts immediately. Photo: Getty Images

Patience running out

ICPA represents the narrowbody pilots of Air India, who fly the carrier’s Airbus A320 fleet, while IPG represents widebody pilots operating the Boeing 777s and Boeing 787s, mainly used for flights to Europe, the US, Canada, and Australia.

The two unions together represent around 1000 pilots, and any collective action from them could significantly affect Air India’s flight operations. Monday’s warning is the latest in a series of prior letters to the carrier’s management about restoring salaries. In November, they had written,

“…Despite our repeated pleas for restoring our (pay), there has been no response from the management… There is no move to resolve the plethora of longstanding disinvestment, be it accounting of illegally withheld 25% arrears with appropriate interest…”

The November communication was preceded by another letter to the management in October in which the pilots expressed their concerns about layover sustenance drastically being reduced to “approximately one-third of its original sum resulting in a 60% – 70% cut.”

A couple of months ago, Air India had discontinued its “full board” services (three meals for pilots during layovers), which the crew did not receive well.

Air India A320 Getty
There have been several communications from Air India’s pilot unions to the carrier’s management regarding salary issues. Photo Getty Images

Air India crew operated important and much-needed repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission during the height of the pandemic. The pilots have been on a pay cut for more than a year and a half and reminded the management of the risks they took and services provided during the pandemic.

Hopefully, the current management will iron out these issues before the Tata Group formally takes over as the carrier’s new owners in January 2022.

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