Joining Star Alliance: Air India top brass divided on hiring more cabin crew

Air India currently employs 3,400 cabin crew and customer-facing employees.

Mumbai | Updated: July 1, 2014 9:17:10 am
Air India currently employs 3,400 cabin crew and customer-facing employees. (AP) Air India currently employs 3,400 cabin crew and customer-facing employees. (AP)

As India’s national carrier, Air India, prepares to formally join Star Alliance on July 11, its top management is yet to arrive at a consensus on whether the airline needs to hire additional cabin crew to improve service quality.

While Air India’s customer service division is in favour of hiring additional staff to offer flyers a world-class experience, the human resources wing is opposing the move on the grounds that the carrier already has more than enough people, who need to be trained more effectively. Also, a matter of concern for the national carrier is a hefty wage bill, which it doesn’t want to inflate further.

Air India currently employs 3,400 cabin crew and customer-facing employees.

“There is no need for immediate induction of more people,” a senior Air India official told FE, on the condition of anonymity. “The human resource department has put forward its suggestion to the management in this regard.”

At present Air India’s fleet size stands at 106, according to the airline’s website. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) requires a minimum crew size of six people for a flight flying six hours or less, minimum of seven people for a 6-11 hour flight, and 10 people for flights 11-15 hours long.

The Air India official quoted earlier said the ideal cabin crew size as per the airline’s requirement based on flying hours and other standards, worked out by the human resource department, stood at 2,300. This is still far in excess of the minimum requirements prescribed by DGCA, and yet much lower than its current manpower.

With a mandate to keep the airline’s wage bill in control, hiring more people was also not desirable.

“Star Alliance would be interested in the quality of our personnel rather than the quantity,” this official said. “We plan to add to our intensive training sessions that are already in place for our cabin crew and front-line staff.”

The flag carrier, which had a debt burden of R44,000 crore as on December 31, has been steadily cutting down its wage bill over the last few years. The wage bill, which stood at R3,500 crore in FY 12, according to airline officials, was trimmed to R3,300 crore in FY13 and to R3,100 crore in FY14.

However, in FY15, Air India’s wage bill is set to rise again by an additional R350 crore to around R3,400-3,500 crore as the airline will be releasing its contribution to employees’ provident fund and other retirement benefits, as per the implementation of the Dharmadhikari Report, the airline official said.

A consultant with a foreign firm rules out the chances of Air India hiring more people ahead of entering the Star Alliance. He declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media. “They will probably realign their staff, services, safety and maintenance standards along with that of their partner airlines,” the consultant said. “But since the airline is already overstaffed, I don’t see it hiring more people.”

There is no shortage of talent in Air India and whatever is required for joining the alliance can be achieved through training its people further, the consultant added.

Rhik Kundu | The Financial Express

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