You may not have heard, but Air India’s pilots have been bickering for some time. They are split into two unions, the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) which is made up of pre-merger Air India pilots, and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) which represents the pre-merger Indian Airlines pilots.
The IPG felt that Air India should only train IPG pilots on the new state-of-the-art Boeing 787s that Air India is receiving, because pre-merger Air India ordered the 787s. In comparison, the ICPA felt that an equal number of ICPA and IPG pilots should fly the 787s. The management agreed with the ICPA, because they felt that it is a fairer way. There has been a few court battles, and both unions were trying to negotiate with management. A few weeks ago, the enmity got so bad that some IPG pilots faked sick so that a flight carrying ICPA pilots to 787 training would get cancelled. The pilots arrived a day late to training.
The courts sided with management and the ICPA. Yesterday, talks broke down between the IPG and management. Ignoring all rules regulating how strikes are to be carried out, the IPG held a “sick-out” yesterday evening, with almost 160 pilots reporting sick. 10 longhaul flights were cancelled. Today, more pilots were planning to report in sick, but AI’s management did something commendable. They fought back.
Aviation minister Ajit Singh declared the strike “illegal” – he said, “There are certain ways of even going on strike. The pilots may have grievances but they should have spoken to the management, me, other well wishers” to the press. Air India sacked 10 pilots who were found to be in good health after reporting sick, and took the politically dangerous decision of derecognizing the IPG, even though the union is backed by the Nationalist Congress Party. For those who find it difficult to keep track of all the various political parties (like me), the NCP is former Aviation Minister Praful Patel’s party.
Air India demanded that all pilots report to work this evening. They sent doctors to the homes of the 160 “sick” pilots to verify that they are actually ill. Those who are found to be in good health and don’t report to work tonight will be sacked effective immediately.
Air India has enough problems on its own without having to worry about undisciplined pilots with unreasonable demands. It’s good that management and the MoCA is taking a strong stance, instead of just giving in to the IPG’s demands and setting precedent for the future.