Air India (AI) has asked a section of its aircraft maintenance engineers (AMEs) to come to work daily without weekly offs and privilege leave for a full three months,at the end of which they would be entitled to use all the accumulated leave in one go. This,however,is subject to the availability of replacement staff.
The engineers have protested against the directive,saying it compromises airline safety and is discriminatory as the AI circular applies only to AMEs belonging to the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The new leave rule is for the one year of service that AMEs are expected to put in at outstation domestic bases. Within the three-month no-break period,leave is prohibited except in extreme exigency. The AMEs have written to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air India CMD protesting the new rule.
An affected AME said,At each of these outstations,a single AME is supposed to handle aircraft flying every day,working up to eight hours a day and even up to twelve hours in certain cases. He cannot even afford to fall sick,since his absence at the airport will mean grounding of the aircraft that has flown in for lack of certifying personnel.
Another senior engineer explained why he thought the rule was discriminatory.
While AI engineers continue to serve a maximum of 15 days at outstation bases,Indian Airlines engineers have been forced to serve for a year. Once at these stations,we are barred from taking any of our weekly offs, he said.
In the circular issued last month,AIs engineering head Vipin Sharma said the AMEs would be eligible for leave to return to their home bases only if a replacement engineer was available. Till this circular was issued,AMEs from IA too were deputed to outstation bases for fifteen-day periods.
In an advisory issued on February 6,DGCA had described engineer fatigue as a potential flight safety hazard. As fatigue builds up over a period of work and that this can be,at least partially ameliorated by the provision of breaks. Therefore,working longer duration without any break should as far as possible be avoided, the air safety regulator had said.
AI denied it was flouting DGCA rules. We follow DGCA rules in letter and spirit, an airline spokesperson said. He insisted that the circular did not bar AMEs from taking weekly offs,only asked them to postpone them until later.
Speaking off the record,a senior AI executive said the new rule would bring no benefit and might make flying risky. There will be a serious threat to air safety if this system as per the circular is followed. The new rules may induce fatigue and impair the functioning of the airworthiness certification. The company gains in no way, he said.