Sunday, September 15, 2013

No spare pilot, passengers wait

Chennai: Due to non-availability of spare pilots, an Air India flight to Delhi from Chennai, which connects passengers to US-bound flights from the national capital, was delayed by more than 14 hours in the city airport.

While flight AI 043 was scheduled to leave for Delhi at 9 pm on Saturday, it left only at 11 am on Sunday. Of the total 153 passengers, 62 headed for various cities in the US while the remaining were for  Delhi.

According to airport sources, the arrival flight AI 042 from Delhi was delayed on Saturday due to technical reasons. “Meanwhile, the crew from Delhi, who reached the city on Thursday and did a quick trip to Singapore and back on Friday night, became ineligible to fly on Saturday night, as according to flight duty time regulation, consecutive night duties are not allowed for one pilot. Also with no spare pilot available, the flight had to be re-scheduled,” the source added.

However, the international passengers, who checked in three hours before the scheduled flight take off, and domestic passengers were agitated by the delay. The airline had to pacify them and accommodate them in hotels.

“I wanted to meet a relative in the US who will be undergoing an operation. But now, due to the delay, I will miss seeing him before the operation and it becomes pointless to go late,” said Kumar Raja from Salem.

For a group of IT professionals, who had a conference in Delhi on Sunday, it was an agonizing wait at the terminal. “They had booked their tickets one month in advance and they kept arguing with  airline officials about the journey. Finally,  AI officials accommodated them and a few others in 6.40 am AI 440 aircraft to Delhi on Sunday,” the airport source noted.

When contacted, Air India spokesman in Chennai told Deccan Chronicle that Saturday’s Delhi flight was delayed due to flight duty limitation of  pilots. “The flight left on Sunday and  passengers booked for various destinations in the US will be accommodated in aircraft flying to their destinations on Sunday night and Monday early morning,” the spokesman added.

The uneven distribution of pilots in metros has put Air India operations in a quandary, say pilots. “Not a day passes without some flight getting rescheduled or cancelled in the country, as there is dearth of spare pilots in major metros like Chennai and Mumbai,” said an AI pilot, which wished to remain anonymous.

According to him, the claims of the national carrier having excess manpower are absurd. “Then, why was there no replacement pilot to operate the Chennai-Delhi connecting flight on Saturday night? Why were so many international passengers put to inconvenience due to delay of the flight,” he quipped.

The pilot however noted that the airline might have excess manpower in Delhi, where two captains fly a plane, but then in cities like Chennai and Mumbai, we are struggling to find a captain to fly planes. And in this situation, Air India has stopped commander training, citing the Delhi example, which is illogical,” the pilot noted.

Further, another AI pilot said the working atmosphere in the national carrier had gone down very badly. “Nowadays, we get our flight schedules only the day before and with so much of unpredictability about our duties, we are worried even to have a casual drink, as we cannot operate a flight the next morning drunk,” the pilot added.

Pointing out that the company spent crores of rupees to buy a Crew Management Software (CMS), which gives the pilots their schedules for the next one month, the AI pilot said he had not worked as per the CMS schedule for even one day in the last two months.

“Why did the company spend so much money to get a centralized software that gives us our work schedule for a month in advance and then we are fed with day-to-day flying assignments,” he questioned, adding that the airlines has also stopped recruiting for a long time, leading to no standby pilots for those who fall sick in the last minute.

“We don’t get pilots to fly the aircraft in case of someone falling sick or the duty time regulations force someone not to operate the flight, because not many are trained to operate latest model planes. An Airbus 319 pilot is not ready for Airbus 333 and so the passengers are affected in the end due to delay or cancellation of their flights,” the pilot added.

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