Friday, December 11, 2015

Air India sacks 3 pilots who quit contract period, asks Directorate General of Civil Aviation to suspend their licenses

NEW DELHI: In an unprecedented move, Air India on Friday sacked three co-pilots who had resigned before completing their five-year contract period with the Maharaja. 

The airline, which is facing relentless poaching of pilots from both India and foreign airlines, has also asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to suspend the flying licenses of these three pilots.

AI chairman Ashwani Lohani cleared this move to check the massive exodus of pilots from the airline, which is putting its expansion plans in a quandary.

Lohani had on November 29 told TOI that the large-scale poaching of AI pilots, especially by a leading low cost carrier (LCC), was 'unethical' and he would do all to stop this exodus from the airline by resolving all genuine HR issues.

"These three pilots were trained by us at a cost of almost Rs 25 lakh per head. 

They had a contract to serve AI for five years but they resigned on getting a better offer. 

This kind of thing can't be permitted as we have ambitious growth plans, are getting planes and need to retain pilots that we train at a huge expense," a senior AI official said, indicating the reason for Lohani's tough move.

The official added that the three pilots were only months away from getting promoted as captains.

Private airlines have been luring AI pilots with the offer of better pay and faster career progression, meaning swifter transition from co-pilot to commander. It has lost 50 pilots to one Indian LCC alone in last one year.

But some pilots say that they can quit after giving the mandatory six-month notice to an airline under DGCA rules and that the AI action could face legal scrutiny.

 "AI must become a better airline — free from the clutches of government control — in order to retain talent. Authorities must introspect why people who can leave are doing so at the first available opportunity," said a pilot who had quit the airline some years back.

AI has about 1,500 pilots, which come in equal numbers from erstwhile Indian Airlines and erstwhile AI. 

Apart from new joinees, the maximum resignations are from IA pilots who are upset at the lack of pay parity with erstwhile AI pilots even eight years after the airline was merged. 

"We will have pay parity by mid-December, a long-pending demand in the merged airline. All genuine employee grievances are being addressed," Lohani had told TOI recently.

AI currently has about 110 aircraft. It is planning add at least 50 planes in coming months and needs to retain its pilots apart from inducting new ones to keep the fleet flying. 

The airline is also planning to make its new entrants sign a bond of up to Rs 1 crore, which they will have to pay if they quit before a certain period.

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