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As new CMD joins, AI pilots begin secret ballot to call strike

ICPA has said that frequent changes in programmed flights and pull outs at short notice due to the acute shortage of pilots are adding to the already increased stress levels leading to “severe fatigue conditions” endangering flight safety.

By: ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi |
September 1, 2015 2:54:15 am

Trouble seems to be brewing at state-owned carrier Air India with the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) on Monday issuing a directive to its members asking them not to operate a flight in case it is getting delayed and the working hours of the pilot is ending. This may result in a delay in flights being operated by the airline.

The ICPA’s move comes on a day when chairman and managing director (CMD) of Air India Ashwani Lohani assumed office for a period of three years. The union has 660 members. Lohani, who met senior officials in the ministry of civil aviation and directors on the board of the ailing national carrier, is learnt to have asked for all files on the matter.

In a communication to its members, ICPA has said that the frequent changes in programmed flights and pull outs at short notice due to the acute shortage of pilots are adding to the already increased stress levels leading to “severe fatigue conditions” endangering flight safety.

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“In the interest of flight safety and safety of our innocent passengers we are directing our members not to give extension on Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) on Flight and Duty Time period,” the ICPA has said in a letter dated August 31, 2015. The CAR lays

down how much rest a pilot must get between flights and how many take off and landings can be done in a day and month. The flight duty time limitation (FDTL) or the average duty time of a pilot is 12-12.5 hours a day.

ICPA’s decision to ask its pilots not to extend their duty hours comes close on the heels of the airline management deciding to take pilots in command out of the category of workmen.

In a second letter to member pilots today, T Praveen Keerthi (general secretary, ICPA) wrote: “You are hereby directed not to give extension on CAR flight and duty time period under any circumstances. This is for your information and strict compliance.”

The instruction to member pilots comes even as ICPA initiated a secret ballot, starting Monday, on whether to declare a strike at the debt laden airline to protest against the August 20 notification.

Earlier this month Deepa Mahajan, Executive Director (P & IR), issued an order which said: “the Ministry of Labour & Employment has after, evaluation, in light of the duties and responsibilities of ‘Pilot in Command’ (PIC) in Air India, as referred under Rule 141 of Aircraft Act 1934 and Rules made thereafter observed that the duties and responsibilities of Pilot in Command are of Managerial and Administrative nature which may not fall in the definition of the ‘Workman’ under section 2(s)of the Industrial Disputes Act 1947”.

This effectively implies that an AI PIC is a Manager and an administrative category of pilot which forbids him from being a part of a union and bars him from going on strikes.

“It’s time we reach out and make the nation aware of the gross injustice and the illegal things that have been happening in Air India, as to how the management has been playing with the judicial system with total disregard for law, by wilfully breaking the law and citing the MOCA for all the unlawful acts executed by the Air India Management. Just like the way they have violated our ‘Bi-lateral agreements and forcefully taken 25 per cent of our hard earned money’, now they have come for our identity and not to forget our eight years long struggle for pay parity which still continues,” the Indian Commercial Pilots Association said in a communication to its members on August 28.

Lohani now has a tough job ahead. The national carrier is surviving on a Rs 30,000 crore government bailout package. The airline had a total debt of over Rs 46,000 crore, as on 31 March, 2015. Industry experts say Lohani has the unenviable job of not only attaining break-even at organisation but also wiping out accumulated losses running into thousands of crores (around Rs 25000 crore), this at a time when the airline’s pilots themselves seem to be on the war path with the management.

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