Friday, April 11, 2014

Air India co-pilot uses her mobile in cockpit, suspended

Apr 22, 2014, 04.58 AM IST  

NEW DELHI: An Air India co-pilot is in the dock after her senior captain complained that she used her mobile in the cockpit. Since this complaint came just days after the co-pilot had operated a flight without signing her pre-flight medical check (PFMC), the airline has taken these charges seriously and grounded her. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is also examining her case.

"About a fortnight back, the co-pilot operated a flight without signing her PFMC which is conducted to ensure that pilots are not inebriated. Under new DGCA rules, not signing this form means that the pilot has failed the breath analyzer test. She signed the PFMC after having operated the flight," said a senior official.

On top of this, a senior captain complained to the airline that that the co-pilot used her mobile phone in the cockpit. Pilots are also supposed to switch off their mobiles when the cabin crew makes the public announcement for doing so. "Talking or using on mobiles after this announcement is not allowed for anyone. The charge of remaining on the phone while taxing the aircraft and preparing it to land is a serious one, if found true," said an official.

On the basis of these two complaints, AI has grounded the woman co-pilot, said a senior official. Her case has also been referred to the DGCA.

All airlines and the DGCA have become strict in enforcing rules for aircraft safety and crew behavior ever since Indian aviation safety standard was downgraded by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year. The DGCA has been doing surprise checks on aircraft of Indian companies, both schedule airlines and charter operators.

So far, the regulator has focused on charter operators with the biggest names of Indian corporate world like Ambani, Adani and GMR having their business jets inspected and two of them even their planes and crew grounded for a while. The DGCA focus has been on charter operators and schedule airlines have so far not been subjected to rigorous checks like the former, something that the charter operators have not taken kindly. The business aircraft operator association (BAOA) has written to the aviation ministry and sought a meeting with DGCA top brass over this issue.

AI has set up a panel to ensure that the paperwork of its aircraft and crew is in order, to avoid the embarrassment of its planes being caught on the wrong foot abroad. The US downgrade means that any country can hold up Indian aircraft indefinitely for checks.

Mumbai | April 21, 2014 10:42 pm

Being on contract will be a new norm at Air India, when it decides to hire employees – after years of freezing its jobs – first time since its merger with Indian Airlines. Barring certain roles that require statutory compliance, policy making decisions, managerial positions, tendering roles and other senior job roles, recruitment for most front-line staff, including pilots, cabin crew and non skilled workers will be based on contracts.

The concept of contractual hiring was taken during an Air India board meeting during May 2012, a senior official with the airline, who was present at the meeting, recounts.

“But, it hasn’t been put to practice yet as we haven’t hired anyone since then. This could change.”

Senior officials of the airline say that with new aircraft coming into possession of the airline there would arise a need to induct cabin crew to cater to the additional requirements.

However, the tenure of the contracts aren’t clear yet.

The airline is currently in the process of formulating a policy in this regard, said the above mentioned senior official.

“We could have contracts for five years, like many others, which can be extended by five years at a time,” he said. “Nothing has been finalized in this regard though.”

Air India expects deliveries of five Dreamliners between May and November.

“As of now, we are comfortable with the existing number of pilots and cabin crew that’s already present in our ranks, especially for Dreamliners. But, we could hire cabin crew in near future though it’s hardly unlikely that we will be hiring more pilots,” the senior Air India official added.

At the end of March 31, 2014, the total staff strength of Air India stood at 23,400 heads as compared to 25,000 a year ago. Th total number of pilots, cabin crew and security constitute a total of 6,000 — while the number of pilots alone stood at 1480.

The total wage bill at Air India which stood at Rs 3,100 crore during FY 2014, is expected to fall to around Rs 2,900 crore in FY 2015, the senior official said.

Out of the airline’s annual wage of Rs 3,100 crore in FY 2014, Rs 1,750 crore was spent on wage and allowances for licensed category employees such as pilots, cabin crew and engineers.

With the new recruits in the cabin crew and pilot segment slated to be on contract, the airline hopes to curtail unnecessary expenditure to bolster its bottom-line.

“We expect our staff strength to fall further down by 1500-1700 heads by the end of FY 2015. Out of this 1500 would leave the airline on retirement. On an average about 200 people resign or opt for VRS to leave the company every year,” he said. “We expect this to continue till FY 2017.”

Air India currently has over Rs 39,000 crore debt , according to another senior official of the airline. While its long term working loan stands at Rs 17,000 crore, short term working loan is about Rs 4000 crore, and aircraft related debt stands at Rs 18,000 crore.

It estimates a huge 44 % slash in its operating losses in 2013-14 to Rs 3,900 crore on the back of several measures, with staff streamlining being one of them.

Air India had about 15,000 employees and Indian Airlines 19,000 before they were merged in 2007. Its employee strength fell by 26% to 25,000 during the last six years and is expected to touch the 13,000 mark in the next decade. At present, 55% of the airline’s staff are over 45-years-old, and will retire in the next 10-15 years. This is slated to further bring down the wage bill of the airline by the end of the current decade.
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The airline has recently proposed to slash its allowances for pilots and other employees which could come into affect by the end of this month if approved by the concerned parties.

“It will help the airline save more than Rs 150 crore annually,” the senior airline mentioned above said.

“The aim is to get the airline back to its profitable ways and we are hoping to achieve this in the coming years,” he added.

 Fearing disruption of flight operations and a pilots’ exodus, national carrier Air India has put its proposed pay cut on the backburner. Nearly a week after the pilots’ union of its domestic fleet threatened industrial action against the airline’s proposal for a 15% pay cut, the airline has sent out an email ruling out any reduction in salaries.

The letter sent by the airline’s executive director (operations), captain SPS Suri quoted the AI chairman and managing director, “None of my pilots will be paid less than the prevailing standards in the airline industry.” HT has a copy of the email.

It added that the previous notification proposing a pay cut was sent to seek the opinions of airline staffers. AI employees now have time till April 25 to submit their suggestions.  “The management backtracked from its stand after it sensed major unrest. How could anybody approve another pay cut after being underpaid for two years?” said a senior pilot requesting anonymity.

On April 10, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) had threatened ‘action’ against the pay cut claiming that it would amount to a 40% reduction in pay in two years if the proposed cut was added to other recent deductions.

 Saurabh Sinha, TNN | Apr 15, 2014, 06.12AM IST 

NEW DELHI: Air India may be planning to cut the salary of its pilots by at least 15% but the latter have bowled a googly at the Maharaja. The airline has for past two years been paying 75% of salary to a majority of its employees, including pilots. Now, the pilots have asked the airline to immediately cough up the 25% arrears and pay it to them with interest.

The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), union of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots, held an emergency meeting last week to discuss the proposed pay cut. While this proposal was thrown out of the cockpit window, they instead decided to ask for payment of the 25% pay cut the airline has implemented on an ad hoc basis since July 2012. A commander of erstwhile IA, for instance, would have run up arrears of Rs 28 lakh to Rs 35 lakh in past two years because of the 25% cut.

Terming the payment of their arrears as 'non-negotiable,' the minutes of the emergency meeting say: "The members have demanded that the company cannot illegally withhold our 25% allowances... The same (be) demanded from the management with interest for delayed payment.... (the airline should be) given a definite deadline for recovery."

 Air India in trouble again over proposed plans to slash allowance 

 State-owned Air India's recent proposal to slash its allowances for pilots and other employees hasn't gone down well with a section of its workforce, especially some senior pilots, who have raised objections to the proposed plan of the airline.

The management of the airline had on April 6 sent a notification to its staff seeking their consent on its plans to 'slash the allowance by 15%.'

If the notification received no objections, the proposal would be implemented on April 27, 21 days after it was initially floated, according to a staff of the airline who received the letter.

So the pilots  have 21 days to respond to the notification after receiving the letter.

At present, flying allowance comprise of about 70% of a pilot's salary, who are guaranteed a flying allowance for 72-80 hours. Air India has however proposed to reduce this to 70 hours.

Some of the pilots who are unhappy with the notification belong to the group which operate narrow-body aircraft like Airbus-320s on domestic and selected international routes.

The total pay packet for a commander in this category ranges between Rs 4-5 lakh a month, while a co-pilot gets between Rs 2-3 lakh a month.

Executive commanders of wide-body aircraft, whose monthly pay packet could fall by close to Rs one lakh to around Rs 7.5 lakh, will also be affected by the proposed allowance cut. Senior wide-body pilots, who fly on international routes, get around Rs 6-7 lakh, while the co-pilots have a package of Rs 5-6 lakh. “The senior pilots will be the most affected lot,” said a pilot with the airline.

Pilots associations in the airline like Indian Pilot's Guild and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has lashed out against the new structure. Indian Pilot's guild was unrecognized by Air India management after 2012 strike by pilots.

“They have issued a note to the pilots on the recommendations of the Dharmadhikari Panel Report which includes appellation of lay over allowance and slashing their flying allowance from earlier guaranteed 72-80 hours to 70 hours,” said Jane Cox, advocate for Indian Pilots Guild.

The Bombay High Court had in January apart from ordering the status quo to be maintained on the implementation of the Dharmadhikari Committee Report also upheld the applicability of Section 9A of Industrial Dispute Act in this matter. According to Section 9A of Industrial Dispute Act, 'No employer, who proposes to effect any change in the conditions of service applicable to any workman in respect of any matter specified in the Fourth Schedule, shall effect such change without giving to the workmen likely to be affected by such change a notice in the prescribed manner of the nature of the change proposed to be effected.'

“Though the management is officially saying that our allowances will be slashed by 15%, in reality, if the notification is implemented pilots could get as much as 40% lesser salaries,” said a senior pilot with the airline, under the condition of anonymity.

“We have raised our objections with the senior management, after meeting a senior official of the airline on April 8. He assured us that whatever decision is taken will be done with consultation with us,” the senior pilot said adding, “If the consultation process turn sour, hundreds of pilots could resign.” Air India's total staff bill for 2013-14 stood at around Rs 3,200 crore, of which over Rs 1000 crore  is  earmarked for pilots, a senior official of the airline had earlier told FE.

The proposed slash in the allowances across the board would help the airline to save over Rs 250 crore annually.

At present the state carrier has about 25,000 staff in its rank including about 1600 pilots.

Meanwhile, when contacted an Air India spokesperson said that the proposed cut in allowance, if implemented, will be applicable for all employees of the airline.

“The proposals by the management are in accordance to the market standard. Also, we are currently discussing this issue with the pilots and other employees,” he said, adding, “We will not take any decision without the consent of our employees.”

Air India expects to narrow its net loss to Rs.3900 crore for 2013-14, as compared to about  Rs 5,100 crore in 2012-13. According to a senior Air India official, the airline currently has a total debt close to Rs.44, 000 crore, half of which is aircraft related. Out of the balance nearly Rs.18000 crore represent long term working capital loans.