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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Air India Sacks 48 Pilots Overnight

Pilot services were terminated by Air India, issuing them letters at 10 PM on Thursday, citing financial constraints

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Raju Vernekar
Raju Vernekar
I am a mumbai based journalist having worked with many daily newspapers.

INDIA. Mumbai. Pilots employed to fly the Airbus 320 fleet of Air India had tendered their resignations in July 2019 but had withdrawn those resignations, allowed within company regulations. However, their services were terminated by Air India at 10 PM on Thursday.

In the termination letters, Air India cited financial constraints and the impact of COVID-19 on the commercial functioning of the company as the rationale for the decision taken. “The current operations are a small fraction of pre-COVID levels and are unlikely to increase in the near future. The company is incurring huge net losses and does not have the financial ability to pay, the letters stated.

Lack of co-ordination

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Ironically some of the sacked pilots flew on Friday not knowing their services were terminated on Thursday night itself, exposing a lack of coordination between different departments of Air India.

Captain Praveen Keerthi, General Secretary, Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA) in a letter dated 14 August addressed to Chairman & Managing Director of Air India, Rajiv Bansal, sought his “urgent intervention against illegal terminations of pilots”.

Withdrawal of resignations was accepted earlier

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“Pilots who tendered their resignations as far back as July 2019 but later withdrew them well within the mandatory 6 months’ notice period have nevertheless been relieved from service starting from 10 PM on Thursday. In fact, in the termination letters dated 13 August, the company acknowledged the earlier acceptance of the withdrawal of resignation. This ignores the law’. How is this justified?” ICPA added.

Violation of Operations Manual

“As per Company Operations Manual (Page 1-110), once the resignation accepted by the office of the CMD, the crew would be informed accordingly and the 6 months’ notice period will then commence. The crew was not informed of the acceptance of resignation and therefore by extension, the commencement of any notice period”, the ICPA stated. 

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“We have only recently written to you bringing to light the “bias and excesses” of the personnel department towards pilots. The ink is barely dry on that letter and the Personnel Department is once again running amok, breaking all rules and the law of the land. Thursday night, around 50 pilots have received illegal termination letters from Personnel Department in blatant violation of Company’s Operation Manual and service rules,” the ICPA said.

“A pilot was made to operate the flight (AI 804/506) on 14 August. In this case, were the crew, passengers, and aircraft insurance valid? The pilots who operated these flights were not technically employees of Air India from the close of office on 13 August. This is a violation of comical proportion, not to mention a grave flight safety hazard. What would have been the mental state of these pilots after knowing their services were terminated?” the ICPA asked in the letter.

The pilots had tendered their resignations when they had received offers from other airlines, but later withdrew these resignations when they were asked to hold on, by their prospective employers. The withdrawal of these resignations was duly accepted by Air India.

After a recent Board of Directors’ decision at Air India authorized CMD Rajiv Bansal to send employees on compulsory leave without pay, there was much hue and cry, with the airline subsequently assuring they would not be laying off any employees. For now, some of the pilots who have received their marching orders have already started knocking on the doors of the courts, seeking justice.

Reacting to the development, Air India clarified that 57 of its pilots, “seeking greener pastures”, had resigned from the airline “citing financial constraints”. The pilots include permanent and contractual employees. “Some of the pilots, later on, had withdrawn their resignations. Air India no longer requires the services of these pilots and has now accepted their resignations. Moreover, some of these pilots [14] have filed writ petitions … seeking a direction to Air India to accept the withdrawal of their resignations. This matter is sub judice,” the statement said.

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