New Delhi: Air India is going to induct about 100 new pilots in the next few months, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said today while virtually shutting the doors for striking pilots, asking those sacked to apply afresh.
Indicating that the 101 sacked pilots could be replaced by new ones, Singh said 90 pilots were currently undergoing training and would be available for flying in August.
“We’re making sure we have enough resources – pilots and engineers to operate the new flights we have planned,” he said in reply to a spate of questions on the month-long pilots’ agitation spearheaded by the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG).
The striking pilots questioned the Government’s plan. “We have serious doubts about ministry’s move (to hire pilots).
Whom do they want to benefit? At a time when the company is under severe financial crunch, can these new pilots be afforded at a salary which is double of ours?” Captain Anil Kumar Rao, Joint Secretary of IPG, told reporters after pilots staged silent marches in Delhi and Mumbai.
“Such a move by the ministry can jeopardise fight passenger safety. Hiring foreign pilots without study of their track records could lead to compromise with safety issue,” he alleged.
“We appeal to the AI management to come forward and have a dialogue. We want to fly. But for that somebody from the management or the ministry should hear us,” he said.
But after facing a loss of over Rs.400 crore due to the strike in the peak holiday season, Government was in no mood to make any placatory moves.
On the contrary, a tough-talking Singh said the sacked pilots will have to apply fresh along with new pilots if they intend to get back.
“As far as we are concerned, the pilot’s strike is over. If the (striking) pilots don’t accept Dharmadhikari report which is part of the airline’s turnaround plan, I don’t think there is any point in their coming back….If terminated pilots want to come back, they will have to apply afresh,”Singh said at a press conference convened to announce Air India’s new global operations plan.
The IPG, which represents around erstwhile Air India pilots, have been pressing their demands relating to career progression, apart from reinstatement of sacked colleagues and restoration of recognition of their union.
Of the 1,539 Air India pilots, 657 belong to the erstwhile Indian Airlines, 610 in erstwhile Air India and there are 272 executive pilots in the management cadre.
“They (pilots) have decided not to come back. They have trashed the Dharmadhikari Report” which recommended several steps for integration of the staff of the two erstwhile airlines post their 2007 merger, Singh said.
“Our stand is that the strike is illegal. The High Court has also said it. They also did not give notice (for the strike)… They are still welcome if they want to come back, but there should be no pre-condition,” he said.
Maintaining that the truncated international schedule being operated during the strike had stabilised, Singh also announced that Air India would get three new Boeing 787 Dreamliners this month.
Observing that Air India would soon advertise for taking more pilots and approach agencies to hire them, the Minister said, “It is up to them (striking pilots) whether they want to come back to work….They can always respond to the advertisements of Air India.”
Asked whether more pilots would be sacked, he said “It is up to the management to decide whether they want to extend this action to others also.”
He also said there were “sufficient number” of pilots to fly the new B-787 Dreamliner planes.
Regarding the issue of compensation being sought by the national carrier from Boeing for delay in delivery of the B-787s, Singh said the airline Board had moved a proposal after talking to the US manufacturer. “It will come up before the CCEA (Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs) soon.”
Asked whether the government wanted to privatise or sell off Air India now or at a later date, he said, “At present, there is no such proposal and we are not considering it.”