Around 100 pilots working for Air India have called in sick today, in a co-ordinated protest against the airline’s training policy which has led to flight cancellations.
The pilots are unhappy that they are being passed over for training to fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the new model which is being introduced for long-haul flights. The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), historically the main pilots’ union at the airline, wants its members to receive the training rather than those from the former Indian Airlines, which merged with Air India in 2007.
Four flights have so far been cancelled and more disruption is expected following the unofficial walkout, which started on Monday night.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh called for the pilots to go back to work, labelling the action ‘illegal’, ‘destructive’ and ‘inappropriate’.
"A strike needs a notice in advance. The Air India pilots have called in sick. Such kind of a strike is illegal," Singh said in a television interview. He called for talks to resume, adding: “This is not appropriate... every section has grievances, they should have some patience."
Air India’s management have taken a hard line with the protest, reportedly sending medical teams to visit the houses of absent pilots. It gave the absentees a deadline of 6pm today to return to work, and has so far sacked 10 of the pilots. It has also derecognised the IPG.
Training for the 787 Dreamliner is a contentious issue because the model is seen as representing the future of the airline, which is heavily in debt and has received government rescue loans. Pilots who are trained to fly the new planes are likely to enjoy better promotion prospects, which is why pilots from the former Indian Airlines – affiliated to a different union, the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) – have previously taken court action to ensure equal representation on the training programme, which is now management policy.
However, the IPG argue that the new planes were ordered before the merger with Indian Airlines and therefore that their members should receive preference.
IPG President Jitendra Awhad said, "The management is not taking this situation seriously and that is why this has happened. We are open to discussions, at least some of our demands should be met. That's why we've asked the Aviation Minister to step in immediately."