Another stir threat of Air India pilots looms large

Mumbai/New Delhi: The threat of another pilots` stir in Air India loomed large on Saturday, as one of its international flight was cancelled and two more delayed by over 16 hours after a section of pilots reported sick, apparently to protest rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training programme.

While a flight to Singapore from Delhi (AI-380), scheduled at 0005 hours Sunday, was cancelled, two services to New York (AI-101) and Toronto (AI-187), slated at 0145 hours and 0215 hours Saturday, were delayed by over 16 hours, airport sources said. "The flights are affected as the pilots did not report duty, citing health problems," an Air India official said, confirming the development.

The protest is primarily being carried out by the pilots owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), as their leaders met through the day to prepare the future action plan. The IPG pilots, who belong to the pre-merger Air India, are protesting the management`s decision to train their colleagues from the erstwhile Indian Airlines on flying the long-haul Dreamliner plane, the first of which is expected to arrive later this month.

The former Indian Airlines pilots, represented by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), had moved court earlier protesting that the airline was only sending the erstwhile Air India cockpit crew for training on the B 787s. The Indian Supreme Court had ruled that that the management would deploy an equal number of pilots from both erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India. Representatives of the Indian Pilots Guild have been holding were in talks with the airline management till late on Friday.

IPG sources said this evening that they were contemplating starting the protest within a few days, but a formal decision was yet to be taken. The ICPA pilots, numbering about 650, have been demanding for long parity in service conditions post the merger of Air India and Indian Airlines and also a clear path of career progression after the merger.

Flying the Dreamliner has become a matter of prestige between the two sparring unions — the IPG and the ICPA — as this would lay the ground rules for further climbing up the organisational ladder, apart from skill and experience enhancement for the pilots. There has been considerable unrest among Air India pilots in the past few years, as the airline has witnessed two major strikes since 2010 and smaller agitations.