Air India Strike: IPG Perspective

Editorial note: the author does not endorse this perspective, he is simply explaining it for the purpose of public understanding.

As everyone surely is aware by now, the Indian Pilots Guild, Air India’s pre-merger pilot union, is striking right now. What many people do not know is why. Why is the IPG striking?

A Boeing 777, one of the 2 types of aircraft IPG operates

The mass media was very quick to criticize the IPG. Coming right after a 30,000 crore rupees bailout package was passed, inconveniencing thousands of passengers, and costing Air India 10 or 20 crores a day (not to mention brand damage), this strike was definitely a nuclear option. The IPG pilots not only feel that this strike was justified, they also feel that their perspective and requests are being trivialized.

“There are a lot of legitimate complaints we have. [Minister of Civil Aviation] Ajit Singh has said as much,” said a striking IPG first officer who declined to be named. “Even after saying this, the management and government are doing nothing, and the media, which doesn’t understand the whole story, continues to blast our positions.”

The first complaint that the IPG has concerns Boeing 787 Dreamliner training. The IPG feels that only they should be permitted to fly these state-of-the-art aircraft, ordered by erstwhile Air India. Management feels that the aircraft should be divided on a 1:1 basis between the IPG and the ICPA, erstwhile Indian Airlines’ trade union. The media was quick to criticize this demand, calling the union greedy and selfish. From a layperson’s view, the management seems to make sense – this is a new state-of-the-art aircraft, and all pilots in the merged company should have a chance to fly it.

A Boeing 747, the other type of aircraft IPG operates

However, IPG doesn’t see it that way. Air India took delivery of all the new aircraft ordered for Indian Airlines. In addition to taking delivery of these aircraft, Air India also recruited more than enough pilots – in fact, Indian has far more commanders (Captains) than Air India does, because commander upgrades are done within 4 or 5 years, and are time-based instead of requirement-based. Time-based upgrade policy means that no matter what, after a set period of time, the pilot will get upgraded. In comparison, requirement-based policy means that upgrades will only occur if there is requirement for another commander. Air India pays ICPA commanders higher salaries than first officers, at the expense of the company, despite the fact that these commanders are not necessary. With all the aircraft delivered, Indian Airlines has roughly 800 pilots operating 66 aircraft.

In comparison, despite hiring enough pilots to operate all 50 aircraft ordered for erstwhile AI, the IPG only flies 22 aircraft. Since Air India pilots get upgraded to commander at a later stage than their Indian Airlines counterparts, and their contract only allows them to upgrade if there is the necessity for a commander, operating less jets than expected is a severe hit to young IPG pilots’ career progression.

Air India A321 - ICPA operates these aircraft

The IPG feels that the management’s decision to let Indian Airlines commanders also fly the 787 is because the executive directors are Indian Airlines staff, who favor pilots of “their own airline” at the direct expense of IPG members. In addition, since Indian Airlines will produce commanders whether the combined company needs them or not, while erstwhile Air India pilots will not be upgraded unless there are actual aircraft for them to fly, it makes sense to management to send ICPA members to train for the 787. Whether or not AI management has enough sense to realize the latter reasoning is up for debate though.

While some IPG pilots that I’ve communicated with concede that while Air India is losing money, and it does make sense to the management to try to save money, this is not an appropriate way. There are many ways to cut costs that do not affect pilot pay or benefits, and they listed many in a press release.  They are very unhappy about it for obvious reasons – they make less money, have less flexibility, and lose other advantages of working for Air India that they thought they had. Not only this, but the IPG claims that management is flouting promises made shortly after the merger took place.

I was forwarded an excerpt of the Wage Agreement of 2007, which clearly states:

Till such time the induction of twelve B787 aircraft in the fleet is completed, the conversion of Commanders onto B787 will be as per line seniority from B747-400/B777/A310.

The IPG cite this as a promise that they would get to operate the first 12 Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. They also claim that this clause was never amended. As the facts stand, not honoring this promise will adversely affect hundreds of IPG pilots.

IPG also says that training ICPA pilots to fly the 787, who until now had not flown any Boeing, will take much more time and will cost significantly more than training IPG pilots to do the same job, since IPG pilots already operate 22 Boeing jets. The cost of training ICPA pilots is 1 crore, compared to a mere 30 lakhs for IPG pilots.

IPG pilots’ career advancement is further negatively affected by Air India management’s plan to lease out 7-10 Boeing 747s and 777s.

***

Apart from 787 training, the IPG have other complaints as well. They complain that the management is not following their own policies by allowing them first class travel during “transhipment.” This has been criticized a lot by the media – they feel that this is another example of the IPG’s greed.

However, the IPG was able to to provide me with Page 2-28 of their Operations Manual (Part A). This is a document that the management itself filed. This document was also approved by the DGCA. Sure enough, the excerpt clearly says:

Transhipment means positioning of a crew member by Air India or other carriers, or also by road or water to undertake flight duties or after having undertaken flight duties.

(i) Crew scheduling will be planned in such a manner that transhipment of Crew from one station to another will be avoided as far as possible. Transhipment by other carriers, when necessary, will be by the highest class, by IATA member carrier using multi-engine modern aircraft. This will be counted towards total hours of duty.

(ii) All transhipment on Company flights will be by First Class, unless all the First Class seats are sold to genuine full fare paying First Class passengers and Directors and above of the Company on duty. In case of downgrading, relevant First Class passengers manifest will be provided on  demand.

***

Apart from 787 training, the IPG have other complaints too. They complain that the ICPA’s contract is significantly better, as a result of the strikes they conducted last year. They have in fact gone as far as to say that they took inspiration from the ICPA.

An Airbus A330, the largest aircraft ICPA operates

When Air India and Indian Airlines were separate, the contracts were very different, and pilots chose which airline they wanted based on these contracts. Air India pilots got higher salary, and they got to fly widebody jets. In comparison, Indian Airlines pilots got more time off from work, and much faster (time-based) promotions.

During the strike last year, ICPA pilots were given a pay raise (to reach “pay parity”) without having to sacrifice their extra time off. In addition, they are now being able to fly the 787, a widebody jet.

IPG feels that they should be given more time off, along with time based promotions, so that their contract is in line with the ICPA contract.  The government agreed to promote pilots to captains after 8 years (compared to 4-5 years for Indian Airlines pilots), but the government refused to pay the additional salary that comes with “commander” position. The IPG found this unacceptable, and this is the issue which lead to breakdown of talks.

There are other ways in which IPG pilots are disadvantaged. Their contract penalizes them from availing of their sick leave or casual leave. This can be a cost to the pilot over over 10% of their monthly allowances. This results in pilots utilizing less sick leave (and personal leave) than they have credit for. This disincentive is also potentially dangerous – encouraging pilots to fly even when they are not in fit shape to fly. It makes perfect sense to repeal this clause and find a new way to deal with medical and personal leave instead.

***

Air India's First Class Product

The question everybody is asking right now is  – what should happen next? The IPG is willing to talk to the management and the civil aviation ministry. The management, on the other hand, is refusing to talk, instead demanding that the pilots return to work. The IPG is not willing to do this until the 70+ sacked pilots are reinstated.

Until talks begin, there is no end in sight for this impasse. The airline will continue to lose crores of money (albeit less now that their contingency plans have kicked in), and pilots will still not have been paid their salaries. It is in the best interest of pilots, the government, and Air India for talks to occur as soon as possible.

***

Finally, the last question is – what does the IPG think should happen in the long run? The IPG is advocating a single holding company with 2 separate verticals would be ideal. This arrangement would allow management and operational synergies to be availed of and create a seamless experience and brand for passengers, but also get rid of the Human Resources disaster of this merger.

***

According to the IPG, the media has been unfair to their views, and not allowed the public to understand it properly. Hopefully you have a better idea of their positions now.

Editorial note: the author does not endorse this perspective, he is simply explaining it for the purpose of public understanding. Stay tuned for Air India Strike: Management Perspective, and Air India Strike: ICPA Perspective. Coming soon!

Comments

  1. Uday kumar says:

    Its an excellent article highlighting why this airline should be sold forthwith lock, stock and barrel.
    Auction off this airline to the highest bidder, from invited Indian corporations.
    All employees to re-apply for their jobs, this way competent pilots of Jet and KF also get a chance to apply.

    These guys are a bunch of spoiled brats that cannot secure a job on their own ability. Nearly 75% of the AI/IA pilots are in their positions by virtue of being related to a executive employee or some minister. I know one family that has nearly 3 pilots in there, they managed to get in because the father was a Director Ops in IAC, and guess what he was from the ”quota”.

    The Finance minister of India was moaning at the state of affairs with the FUEL subsidy in India and was trying to promote a bill to progressively charge higher Gas and Fuel bills to sections of society that can afford it. This would ultimately save the govt $5b/ann, and guess how much the GOI has promised to pay to keep this bunch of princelings in the pilots seat $30b over 6 yrs. All the savings from the FUEL subsidy is written off against this pompous bunch.

    The AI brand is great the country needs a strong airline and AI in pvt hands will fulfill this role, though one has to take into consideration some sops to the existing pvt airlines too. This lot should be shown the door.

    • I have to disagree with you.

      Nepotism in AI is much less than you will find in Kingfisher or Jet Airways among pilots. Before the merger, getting into Air India (and Indian Airlines to an extent) was considered one of the most prestigious pilot positions you could get in India. The acceptance rate of AI/IC was incredibly low, and they almost exclusively took the best pilots graduating from India’s top flight school – IGRUA. So calling Air India pilots incompetent is not accurate at all.

      Private airlines may have better management, but the best pilots in India dreamt of working for AI.

      • Uday kumar says:

        If you notice my reply i mention 75% of the pilots. The other 25% come from the IAF and few from IGRUA. Some do happen to make it via the scholorships and self funding.
        FYI, i am an ex-AI employee. I had tried my hand at flying in the late 80s early 90s before the start of the opening up of the Indian aviation sector. I flew with Nagpur flying club till it was shut due to the death of its Chief Engineer. This is where i came across the female pilot daughter of the DoOps. Later i joined a middle-easter carrier and have done well for myself, it was here i witnessed this suspect pilot take-off into a approaching aircraft, without the permission of the ATC.
        I know a single odd ball cannot be used to paint the whole lot, however if you look at the behaviour of this lot over the years its evident these types are in majority in there. Again this is from first hand experience, many of my ex- collegues in AI are brilliant but most were useless and could not hold a job in any other airline. Additionally they have become so redundant working in an unproductive manner they just can’t be bothered to try anything else unless forced thru the doors.

        Can you tell me how many pilots has IGRUA produced till date since creation ? The answer will give you further food for thought.
        I know many flt attendants who took up flying in AI and are pilots now. To be honest if these guys had to try as external candidates in an open assessment many would have struggled. It was a cake walk for most. And it is this very gravy train that these AI pilots want to continue at the cost of massive consequences to the nation, especially the future of its young.

        The current happening of AI is nothing new, it was predicted and will repeat again. My suggestion on this:
        Following the AI saga over the last fortnight, some of the politicians seem to have very strong reasons for the existence of this airline under the ownership of GOI.
        The LEFT, to support the employees, their major source of funding.
        The BJP and CONGRESS, always quoting the North-East, VVIP and relief flights.
        Options :
        1. Allocate part of the fleet to create a new airline serving the NE, suggest a fleet of 4xA320/A319 and 4xATR-72s. These aircraft can also be used for immediate relief flts.
        The PM & Presidents can have 2 x B744 for his junkets. With a residual value not exceeding $50m for the 2 x B744, this is still a far more efficient approach for the VVIP requirement. Between the NE airline and VVIP squadron, any relief flts can be fullfiled further requirements if arise, can be sourced from the pvt airlines.
        This venture will not exceed a investment of more that $250M + $50M Annual ops cost. Hopefully the NE venture will garner some revenue to offset part of the losses.
        All employees can be sole members of left leaning unions.
        2. Shut down the present AI. Render all staff redundent, pay them 6 months basic wage.
        3. Invite valuations and sale plan by big 5 consultancies. Valuations can be done for the whole corporation or Brand only, routes only, aircrafts only, fixed assets, MRO and Grd handling eqpt.Allocate 30 working days for this process. The consulatncies get a small fee and % of the sale price alongwith the scope to tie-up with the buyer for a future consultancy role.
        4.Invite Indian corp, National and Intl. Ensure they have access to their own source of funding however offer lenienent terms for payment keeping in view financial markets (we can’t wait for the credit markets to improve). These entities can be approached consequently as the valuations is underway. Immediately after the valuation allow these entities 30 days due dilligence.
        5. Over a period of next 30 days AUCTION all the assets in a televised open bid, if there is a suitable buyer with decent valuation handover to them.
        6. In the next 2 months owner/manager can start recruitment of staff from the pool of ex-AI employees.
        6 months from date of closure, say end of this month you will have either a new airline or atleast all assets of the present AI sold out with the GOI earning part of the value and owning part with a future scope for sale or stock listing for sale.
        7. Ministry of Civil aviation can look at going back to doing its primary job i.e. Creating growth in India’s civil aviation sector, Increasing the safety of all aspects of Civil aviation, Ensuring the financial viability of all stakeholders including pax.
        A part of this new Civil aviation policy should be the allocation to state govts a say in the development of their state aviation assets i.e. Airports, MRO and Manf industry. This will boost competition as has happened in Auto, Power, ITES etc. A state like TN or GUJ has a far greater potential than say DELHI. Its the loopsided policies of the Federal system of rule making and thinking that creates these haphazard growth in India. Even the NE states might grow to be more viable boosting tourism, The MoCA can keep a check on tour operators chartering aircrafts etc like they do in UK under the ATOL system of grading.
        I believe the time is running out rapidly for India. The citizens of India have to start thinking fast and act even more quickly. EU is crashing, next the wages and prices here will collapse, they will be if not cheaper as competitive. With a population of 1.3billion India will be enslaved to Europe once again in the not so distant future we carry on making a mockery of our nation with allowing these politicians and their wards to create the next PRINCELY ESTATES.
        India still has the ingredients to make huge difference in its destiny but this can only be achieved thru actions and calling a spade a spade.

      • Uday kumar says:

        By the way couldn’t help noticing the faus pas.
        The snap of AI- FIRST CLASS cabin has only one pax travelling and going by his base ball cap i can confidently say he is a PILOT on SOD. The cap is probably a ”IF ITs NOT BOEING I AM NOT FLYING” souvenier from settle.

        • The picture of the first class cabin above is from the air show that took place in Frankfurt 3 years ago.. Air India aircraft was there for static display.. One seat is displayed as the flat bed and the other which is in upright position has the silverware and plates displayed.. The guy in the baseball cap is probably one of the journalists.. If you need to pick on pilots do find something credit worthy or genuine enough but till then do avoid making up crap as you go along?

          • Uday kumar says:

            Temper, Temper………hope you make it thru the psychometric test.

          • CAPT ISHIT KUMAR says:

            Dear Toshu,
            Thanks buddy … i really appreciate your detective perspective.
            good job!
            regards,
            Capt. Ishit Kumar

    • CAPT ISHIT KUMAR says:

      Dear Uday,
      I really doubt , if you are an aviator??? cause judging your nature by your words(you have used)and the frustration u have vented out …. u surely cannot fly safely……………… because the first lesson i learned in the cockpit was that only a calm, balanced ,analytical and most important non fixated (w/o pre conceived notions) mind will be most safest …. . My friend aviation is full of dynamics and u cannot just continue with ur own set of ideas (i don’t know where u picked them from ..but they stink.. for sure), u have to look at both sides of coin always.

      1) Your comment ————> “These guys are a bunch of spoiled brats that cannot secure a job on their own ability. Nearly 75% of the AI/IA pilots are in their positions by virtue of being related to a executive employee or some minister. I know one family that has nearly 3 pilots in there, they managed to get in because the father was a Director Ops in IAC, and guess what he was from the ”quota”.”””””………………………
      MY reply with the actual facts———-> Now the scenario has changed but even as late as last years you ask any pilot in Indian sky his urge will be to see himself in Air India (IC or AI) uniform …….. why because of the regrious selection criterion (which lot of people were unable to crack), training and the personality which is groomed here….. my friend, in this company we are not only taught “how to fly a plane but how to pilot it professionally “! And i hope you understand the difference. Let me tell you, apart from the other rounds the two basic rounds for selection in this company is WRITTEN and INTERVIEW …. as you talk of influence even the prime minister of the country cannot leak the questions or influence the result of the written question exams …. and now some facts about the other private and gulf carriers ” i happed to be at a seminar or walk in’s and i heard on AI commander negotiating that he/she was will to resign AI and join them… but provide his/her daughter(who had completed CPL and had done a jet endorsement) was considered for cadet pilot program, now on date both of them are settled in that airline…. why?? cause of the material the Air Indian’s have.
      As far as selection in this company is considered when i joined here, i had selection calls from
      1)Jet Airways
      2) King Fisher
      3) Indigo(which was launching that time)
      but i decided to join NACIL that time …. so do you call me “a bunch of brat who is not able to secure my position anywhere else” and mind you, i am not a rocket scientist but just an average person in my batch at AI,, so a person who is average here at AI can achieve selection of three more airlines easily then you better check up the facts please…… as far as quota is concerned i am not a quota guy, buy AI is a govt run Org. so it follows all stupid laws that our parliament passes and respect reservations, hence lot of under privileged people get a chance( i am not getting into the debate if it is write or wrong) …. but a fact is that in early 2000′s there were no job in AI/IC in normal category but pilots slots were vacant in SC/ST/OBC category because of their scarcity….. ( but i am no body to comment on it and i am sure u too don’t have the balls to challenge it too)
      2) Your Next pre conceived notion that our ex Cabin crew who are now flying as cockpit crew……. let me tell you it is lot easier to learn and to teach a person from aviation background than a fresher…. as they are already aware of technical issues relating to cabin……load and trim sheet… head count …. baggage issues …… evacuation … first aids …. diversions…. etc BUT by saying this i am not suggesting their internal entry and nothing like such exists in AI…. (stop deceiving people by giving out wrong fact) in the selection procedure there are 5 marks(out of 100 marks) kept for kins or ex employs of the company (standard corporate policy) …. apart from this they are as good as an outside entry…… what world are you living in and talking about(my wife was an Ex cabin Crew with AI so i know about it in great details……)
      3) I really fail to understand why are you uttering so much of poison at AI pilots , maybe cause that girl got selected in AI (cause of Quota) and you were unable….. then my friend blame your parliament for it not the whole AI pilot community…..
      4)And to inform you I am not From IGRUA or IAF background but i still acknowledge the fact that they are really good at their skill………. blame them “for being good ” OR “your stupid school for being bad” where people just filled log books ( and you know the logging scenes which exist in many Indian flying schools..),so i am sorry bro you should have taken the pain to crack IGRUA entrance first then peruse your CPL ambitions( or did you fail there also and blamed kin’s of minister for that too)

      5) Your whimsical solution for AI turn around is not required …. AI is in trouble cause of wrong decisions of our ex ministers and contentions HR issues….
      By writing fancy terminology don’t act smart on this forum…… AND for your kind information a CONSULTANT called ACCENTURE( with their annual turn around crossing a Billion $) was indeed hired for the facilitation of smooth transition and a good merger and the money paid to them was in many crores, for the job…. so buddy calm you butt down as all these solution have been thought of and suggested by many and your expertise is not required, thanks for your kind suggestions and invaluable effort.
      Regards
      Capt. Ishit Kumar

      • Uday kumar says:

        iSHIT kumar your verbal diarrhoea……….. You corroborate my statement ”i decided to join NACIL that time …. so do you call me “a bunch of brat who is not able to secure my position anywhere else” .

        An excellent exhibition of the quality of AI pilots.

        • Please keep the discussion civil.

          Ishit had some interesting points. Perhaps you would be better off actually trying to refute the claims with logic instead of resorting to personal insults?

          • Uday kumar says:

            iSHIT has carried out a infantile gurging of words (sorry my pea sized brains cannot find anything INTERESTING in his retort), commonly referred to as ”Verbal diarrhoea”, i don’t see any thing uncivil in using this term. Having said that, i would like to clarify one point here.
            I am all for QUOTA’s (Unfortunately i don’t come under its segment), as i strongly believe in AFFIRMATIVE actions however when a Dir of Ops earning loads, residing in south mumbai ends up getting his allegedly incompetent ward in thru this QUOTA system, its absolutely unfair on the more deserving.

            Talking of Interesting points, i would like to highlight this attached article from ndtv.com quoting CAPA. Note the last 2 pointers, i’ve mentioned the same in my reply to your prv post, get big 5 accounting consultancies and get the MoCA back to doing its constitutional duty. Though they talk of Satyam where the co was handed over to MBT, in short it is similar to what has been mentioned i.e Sell it to an Indian co.
            http://profit.ndtv.com/News/Article/air-india-faces-possible-shutdown-says-new-report-304893

  2. As a common man, and a frequent flyer I would only the matter be settled soon. All the other airlines are hiking the airfare by 60-80%. I sincerely hope a solution is found at the earliest, as there a lot NRIs like me who is suffering due to the ongoing strike.
    I must also point out that most Indians have a habit of degrading what is Indian. I have traveled in 17 different airlines and I must say Air India is among the best to give great service at cheaper rate. Spacious seats, good food, unlimited liquor.. You cant ask for more. Even when people travel by Air India due to cheap fare, they complain it is the worse. A very Indian habit.

  3. Air India is appalling. I flew a domestic once to catch a Virgin Flight from Delhi. The crew did not show up at the airport and I almost missed my connection to New York

    No hope in the current airline. Privatize it.. Just like Air France / KLM.. It will return to profitability only when fat cat current pilots are gone