M A I N   N E W S

62 IA pilots seek clearance to join new airlines
Girja Shankar Kaura
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, June 10
Trouble is brewing in the public sector Indian Airlines with over 60 pilots, including commanders, having sought a “no objection certificate” (NOC) from the management, with a view to joining new airlines ‘’ where their professional career and financial interests” would be looked after.

Though none of the pilots have submitted their resignation to the management of the Indian Airlines, the situation has apparently arisen after the talks between top officials of the airline and the pilots’ body, ICPA, collapsed earlier in the month over a possible pay hike.

A hypothetical situation of a large number of IA pilots leaving suddenly would not only upset all its flight schedules but also take away experienced hands from the airline which has over the years been cited as one of the “safe” airlines.

However, highly placed airline sources said it was a pressure tactic which the pilots were employing at a time when the state-owned carrier is slated to witness some changes in its top management echelons.

The IA Chairman-cum-Managing Directors, Mr Sunil Arora, who has worked overtime to bring the airline out of the red, is completing his five-year tenure this Sunday and his movement at this crucial juncture of talks with the pilots would only leave them with a upper hand to dictate their terms and conditions.

The government set up a search committee recently, but is yet to pick up his successor. Indications are that the seniormost Deputy Managing Director who looks after the airline’s finances, Ms Sushma Chawla, would be given temporary charge. As per the reports, the IA pilots would not have a positive reaction towards this move.

Sources said the move from the pilots has come as in the last meeting which they had with the outgoing CMD Sunil Arora, it was decided that all disputes be kept in abeyance. While the IA management offered the pilots a 50 per cent hike in their salaries from the present level, the pilots sought an increase pegged at 10 per cent less than the prevailing market rate.

Some private airlines, despite an agreement reached in April that the Indian Airlines pilots’ salaries would remain the benchmark for the other airlines to follow, have been giving huge hikes to their pilots in a bid to retain them. While on an average, pilots in private carriers are able to notch up salaries to the tune of Rs 45 lakh to 60 lakh per annum, the Indian Airlines pilots carry home salaries ranging from Rs 35 lakh to 50 lakh.

The private airlines have thrown the agreement reached at the talks called by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel into thin air and although there have been less instances of poaching, the salaries on offer in the private airlines definitely offer greener pastures to the Indian Airlines’ pilots.

At the last meeting, the pilots also sought permission from the management to apply for an NOC so that they would have the leverage to apply to other airlines. This was agreed upon and, as a result, as many as 62 pilots have now sought an NOC from the Indian Airlines.

While the IA management has been denying that any NOCs were sought, documents available with The Tribune point out that the applications have been submitted to the General Manager (Operations) Northern Region, as recently as June 8. The application clearly says, “I would like to request your good office to kindly issue me a No Objection Certificate at the earliest to exercise my option to leave Indian Airlines, to enable me to join a suitable progressive airline, where my professional career and financial interests are looked after”.

The move is of significance as more private domestic carriers take wings in the Indian skies and the civil aviation sector witnesses rapid expansion, there is a considerable shortage of trained pilots, ground engineers, cabin crew and other airline staff. Aviation sources predict that an acute shortage of pilots and other trained staff would be felt in the country over the next six months.

Two of the leading private carriers — Jet Airways and Air Sahara — are already flying international to South East Asian destinations and Jet Airways launched its Mumbai-London flight last month. Need for more trained commanders and pilots to fly on international routes is also being felt, aviation sources say.

Well-placed official sources in the IA said that applying for ``NOC’’ by pilots was not a big deal and brushed aside the development as a ``pressure tactic’’ by a lobby of pilots to cut a better financial package with the IA. If the pilots were serious, they should have first resigned, applied for a job in another airline and then sought NOC for specific reasons, sources said.

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