It has been more than a year of its acquisition from the Centre and Air India not only took major steps in terms of turnaround and transformation, but also ran into major controversies on issues ranging from pilots’ discontent to inept handling of certain sensitive matters. Despite one year of transition, troubles seem not to have ended for the airline, which is now under Tata management. However, the pilots under its two unions — the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) and the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG)– have recently accepted the revised compensation structure but this came after a long standoff between the unions and airline management.
Pilot’s Salary Issue
On April 19, the ICPA and IPG of Air India had rejected the new pay structure proposed by the airline. The primary bone of contention is the reduction in the flying allowance from 70 hours to 40 hours every month under the new structure, which the pilots believe is unfair. The two unions have warned of possible “industrial unrest” if the management goes ahead with the new terms without their consent.
While Air India has stated that it will “continue to engage with the remainder of its staff,” the airline has taken a tough stance on the issue, saying that there are “no recognised unions in Air India.” This is the first wage revision offered by the Tata group-owned Air India since its takeover last year, and it will affect all 3,000 pilots across its four airlines – Air India, Air India Express, Air Asia India, and Vistara.
The source revealed that during the town hall meeting held on May 4, approximately 800 pilots who had not yet agreed to the new compensation structure were in attendance. The meeting was presided over by Air India’s Chief of Operations, Captain Rajwinder Singh Sandhu, who is also a pilot. In response to requests from the pilots, who had previously declined the revised compensation structure, the airline has granted an extension until the end of May to sign the new contracts.
According to a source, a significant number of pilots remained resolute in their stance of not signing the new contracts. Recognising the ongoing deliberations and concerns raised by the pilots, the airline had decided to extend the deadline for pilots to reach a decision regarding the new contracts. The extended deadline now allows pilots until the end of this month to make their choice, whereas the original deadline for accepting the revised compensation structure was set for April 30.
To address the new service terms and chart the path forward, the unions held a joint virtual meeting, bringing together their respective members. “The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the revised compensation structure in detail and determine the future course of action,” said the sources.
Appointment Of Ilker Ayci As CEO
However, the Tata management courted its first set of controversies with the appointment of Ilker Ayci, a former Chairman of Turkish Airlines, as the CEO and MD of the airline in February, 2022. The appointment raised eyebrows with RSS affiliate Swadeshi Jagran Manch expressing its reservations about the Tata Group appointing former Turkish Airlines chairman as Air India’s Managing Director and CEO. Amid controversies, the appointment of Ilker Ayci could not last as he turned down the job.
Pay Package Disparity
Thereafter, Air India senior management faced discontent from senior pilots who protested on several issues ranging from ignoring the Indian pilots and hiring the foreign counterparts on hefty pay packages to alleged change in conditions of service of its member pilots.
The IPCSA issued many notices demanding that the Air India management comply with the statutory mandate of the Industrial Disputes (ID) Act, including Section 9A, in letter and in spirit; and not undertake any change in the conditions of service of pilots without following the applicable provisions of the ID Act. The pilots’ body also demanded to be involved as representatives of the pilots, in deliberations regarding any change in conditions of service before any precipitative steps are taken.
It had said that it was important for the morale of the pilots and for maintenance of trust between the pilots and the management of Air India Ltd., especially given the transition to the new management, that pilots be consulted and taken into confidence before any condition of their service is changed, especially when such change may ultimately prove to be to their detriment.
Thereafter, the peeing incident on November 26, 2022 in the Air India New York-Delhi flight and mishandling of the issues emerging thereafter brought embarrassment to Tata so much so that the Air India CEO and Tata sons chairman had to issue statements. N Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Tata Sons and Air India on January 8 said that the airline’s response to the incident on its New York-Delhi flight on November 26 should have been “much swifter”.
Aviation regulator DGCA on January 20 imposed a fine of Rs 30 lakh on Air India and suspended the license of the pilot-in-command for three months in the Air India peeing case which occurred on November 26, 2022. Moreover, the regulator also imposed a penalty of Rs 3 lakh on the Director-in-flight services of Air India for failing to discharge duties.
In another case, the DGCA imposed a Financial Penalty of Rs 10 lakh on Air India for not reporting the incidents which occurred on AI-142 Paris-New Delhi flight on December 6, 2022. Two incidents had occurred in the flight. While one passenger was caught smoking in the lavatory, was drunk and not adhering to the crew instructions; another allegedly relieved himself on a vacant seat and blanket of a fellow female passenger when she went to the lavatory.