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Air India Express Strike Ends, Terminated Workers Being Reinstated

NEW DELHI, May 9: In a major breakthrough in the Air India Express crisis, which had led to the cancellation of over 170 flights since Wednesday, the airline's management has sent letters reinstating all 25 crew members who had been sacked for taking part in the 'mass leave' protests. All 300 crew members who had reported sick are expected to return to duty immediately.

Conciliation proceedings were held at the Labour Commissioner's office on Thursday and representatives of the airline's management and the Air India Express Employees Union attended. A document was signed during the meeting, bearing the masthead of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central). It was signed by representatives of both the management and the union.

"It is reported by the media that the cabin crew of Air India Express Ltd. have reported sick-en-masse which disrupted flight operations widely... After detailed discussions deliberation, persuasion and on appeal of Conciliation Officer and Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) the representative of union (members of cabin crew) agreed that all the cabin crew members who have reported sick will report for duty with fitness certificate immediately," the document said.

"On appeal of the Chief Labour Commissioner (Central) the management agreed to reinstate 25 cabin crew who have been terminated on 07th and 08th May 2024 for reporting sick as a concerted action immediately. The management will review the cases of these cabin crew as per service regulations," it said.

The Labour Commissioner's office said that the representatives of the management have given an assurance that all the issues raised by the cabin crew before them and during conciliation proceedings would be looked into and resolved.

Later on Thursday, the airline issued letters to the sacked employees stating that they were being reinstated with immediate effect.

"Pursuant to the conciliation proceedings dated 09.05.2024, it has been decided to reinstate you in the services with immediate effect. Above is without prejudice to our rights to review your case as per the Service Regulations as mentioned in the minutes of conciliation," the letter said.

It also stated that the month's salary credited to the employees' accounts after the termination letter was issued would be adjusted against the salary payable for May.

The breakthrough will come as a relief to passengers, hundreds of whom were left stranded, especially on Wednesday when the sudden cancellations began. Air India Express CEO Aloke Singh had written to employees on Wednesday and said that the number of flights being operated will be reduced over the next few days, but all cabin crew members are expected to return to work immediately and services are likely to be normalised in three-four days.

An Air India Express spokesperson said, "We are pleased with the progress we made at the conciliation meeting and welcome our cabin crew colleagues back at work. This will help us swiftly restore our flight schedule and fulfil our commitments to our guests. We sincerely apologise to those inconvenienced by these unintended disruptions."

"As we gradually bring our operations back to normalcy, we urge our guests booked to fly with us to check their flight status before heading to the airport. If their flight is cancelled, or delayed beyond 3 hours, they may opt for a full refund or reschedule to a later date without any fees," the spokesperson added.

The airline had to cancel flights after 300 senior cabin crew members began reporting sick at the last minute starting Tuesday night and then switched off their cellphones. What precipitated the crisis were new employment terms and modifications in the compensation package, sources had said. Crew members had also alleged a lack of equality in the treatment of staff.

It had come to light on Thursday that the airline had sacked 25 of the crew members who had called in sick. The others said they would not return to work until they were reinstated.

Over 100 Air India Express Flights Cancelled As Crew Goes On 'Mass Sick Leave'

NEW DELHI, May 8: Over 100 Air India Express flights were cancelled since Tuesday night after the cabin crew members went on a "mass sick leave", official sources said on Wednesday.

The international and domestic flights were cancelled after about 300 senior cabin crew members reported sick at the last minute and switched off their mobile phones.

The Air India Express management is currently trying to reach out to the crew, who are protesting against the new employment term at the Tata Group-owned airline, sources said.

"A section of our cabin crew has reported sick at the last minute, starting last night, resulting in flight delays and cancellations. While we are engaging with the crew to understand the reasons behind these occurrences, our teams are actively addressing this issue to minimise any inconvenience caused to our guests as a result," an Air India Express spokesperson said.

"We sincerely apologise to our guests for this unexpected disruption and emphasise that this situation does not reflect the standard of service we strive to provide," the spokesperson added.

Guests impacted by cancellations will be offered a full refund or complimentary rescheduling to another date, the airline said.

"We apologise for any inconvenience. Please be informed that your flight has been cancelled due to operational reasons," Air India Express said in response to his post.

Why Air India Express Crew Is Protesting

According to sources, the crew at the Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air India, has alleged that there was a lack of equality in the treatment of the staff after the merger with Tata Group.

They claim that some staff members were offered lower job positions despite clearing interviews.

The crew has also alleged that the key parts of the compensation package have been modified or removed and that the airline management is shutting down the dissenting voices, sources said.

The airline is currently also in the process of merging AIX Connect (formerly AirAsia India) with itself.

The crisis at Air India Express comes a month after Tata Group full-service carrier Vistara witnessed cancellations due to pilot woes.

Discontentment had simmered among pilots at Vistara, which is in the process of getting merged with Air India, following the new contracts wherein there were concerns on rosters for pilots operating flights and a component of their salary packages.

Air India's Iconic Boeing 747, Dubbed Queen Of Skies, Bows Out In Style

MUMBAI, April 22: One of Air India's Boeing 747s, which once ferried VVIPs like Prime Ministers, Presidents and Vice-Presidents, flew out of Mumbai's international airport on Monday for the last time, marking the end of an era for the iconic jet used for long-haul international flights.

The plane, also dubbed the queen of the skies, is flying to Panefield in US where it will likely be dismantled and stripped for parts.

There are four Air India Boeing 747s, the last of which ceased operations four years back.

The pilots ferrying out the jet performed a "Wing Wave" - an aviation tradition reserved for retiring or concluding flights.

Airlines around the world are replacing the 747s, with newer more efficient jets. Air India had taken delivery of its first Boeing 747 on March 22, 1971.

According to a report, the four Boeing 747-400 airplanes have found a new owner - US-based AerSale, a supplier of aftermarket commercial jet engines and parts.

Air India last flew the 747s in 2021, and since then, they've been parked at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport.

AI pilots come out in support of Vistara pilots; flight disruptions continue

NEW DELHI, April 4: Tata Group owned airline, Vistara, continued to see flight cancellations for the fourth consecutive day even as pilots from sister airline Air India urged the group chairman to look into the concerns of Vistara pilots

At least two Vistara officials , who asked not to be named, confirmed that around 20 flights were cancelled on Thursday, taking the total number of cancellations to around 147.

“Around 20 Vistara flights were cancelled on Thursday. Its on time performance (OTP) however, marginally improved from 85.9% on Wednesday to 86.4% on Thursday,” one of the above said.

An airline spokesperson did not comment on the number of flights cancelled or the most affected routes.

The spokesperson, however, said that the airline has been doing its best to mitigate the impact of flight cancellations.

“In order to minimise inconvenience caused to customers, cancellations are being done well ahead of the departure date as we have temporarily reduced capacity while ensuring adequate connectivity across our network. Furthermore, we are also offering alternate flight options or refunds to affected customers, as applicable,” the spokesperson said.

Vistara pilots have called in sick after being forced to sign revised contracts, restricting flying time for a co- pilot from 70 to 40 hours and reducing salaries.

“The airline’s situation is due to poor planning and rostering. They do not have adequate designated examiners required to train pilots and conduct various tests for them to get additional rating on their certificate,” an airline official said. The airline dismissed the claim: “We confirm that we have an adequate number of instructors”.

The airline’s chief executive officer (CEO) Vinod Kannan had a 30-minute townhall with pilots on Wednesday. He met the airline’s pilots assuring them that airline services will be normalised by the weekend, adding that the pilots’ rosters will be fixed to maintain their work-life balance.

Meanwhile, Air India’s two pilots unions Indian Pilots Guild (Boeing pilots association) and Indian Commercial Pilots Guild (Airbus pilots’ union) wrote to the Tata Group chairman N Chandrasekaran on Thursday urging the Tata Group to have a dialogue with pilots and address the concerns raised by Vistara pilots.

The unions stated: “It is crucial to recognise that the concerns expressed by the Vistara pilots are not isolated incidents but rather indicative of systemic issues that extend across various Tata Group aviation entities”.

The letter read: “The pilots of Vistara have been steadfast in their advocacy for fixed 70 hours compensation, improved working conditions, and stable roster. After thorough assessment and consultation, we firmly believe that their demands are not only reasonable but also reflective of broader challenges prevalent within Tata Group airlines.”

The pilots claimed that the issues of fixed remuneration for 70 hours of work, lack of leave approvals, lack of adequate rest periods, unstable rosters, stretching pilots to max their flight duties, and an unsupportive work environment are consistently echoed by pilots across different Tata Group airlines.

“..it is distressing to witness instances where pilots are being exploited, overworked and deprived of their basic rights across Tata Group Airlines…we urge (the)Tata Group leadership to engage in constructive dialogue with the pilot community, listen attentively to their feedback and take proactive measures to address their legitimate grievances. By addressing the concerns raised by the Vistara pilots, Tata Group can demonstrate its commitment to fostering a culture of fairness, transparency and employee welfare across all its aviation ventures, which is missing at the moment,” the pilots said.

DGCA asks Vistara to submit daily report on cancellations and delays

MUMBAI, April 3: A day after Vistara reduced its operation due to the non-availability of pilots after they called in sick, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Tuesday asked Vistara to submit a daily report on flight cancellations and delays. The Civil Aviation Ministry is also monitoring the situation.

In Mumbai alone, Vistara cancelled 14 departures and 17 arrivals on Tuesday, and around 52 flights were cancelled across India.

The DGCA officials are also monitoring the situation to ensure compliance with requirements for providing facilities to passengers in case of flight cancellations and delays.

Sources have said that pilots taking sick leave in mass is a move to protest the salary revision that the airline was trying to implement ahead of its merger with Air India. Following the new contracts, there are concerns that the fixed pay component is getting reduced, and there is a more flying-linked incentive in the salary structure.

An airport source said, “There was a lot of confusion on Monday as flights got cancelled without any information. But on Tuesday, Vistara informed the passengers in advance about the flight cancellations.’’

The Ministry of Civil Aviation, which is monitoring the situation of Vistara flight cancellations, in a post on X, said, “However, flight operations are managed by the Airlines themselves. Airlines have to comply with DGCA norms to ensure passenger facilitation in case of cancellation or delay of flights.”

Meanwhile, a Vistara spokesperson said, “We had a significant number of flight cancellations and delays in the past few days due to various reasons, including crew unavailability. We acknowledge and are deeply concerned about the inconvenience this has caused our customers. Our teams are working towards minimizing the discomfort to the customers. We have decided to temporarily reduce the number of flights we operate to ensure adequate connectivity across our network. We have also deployed larger aircraft like our B787-9 Dreamliner and A321neo on select domestic routes to combine flights or accommodate more customers, wherever possible. Furthermore, we are offering alternate flight options or refunds to affected customers, as applicable. Once again, we understand that these disruptions have caused immense discomfort to our customers, and sincerely apologise to them for the same. We are working towards stabilizing the situation and will resume operating at our regular capacity very soon.”

Vistara Says Operations To Normalise Soon

NEW DELHI, April 3: Vistara expects to resume normal flight ops by the weekend, company sources said, hours after CEO Vinod Kannan and senior members of his management team held a virtual town hall with striking pilots.

Company sources said the pilots had been promised a course correction to address concerns in the wake of the merger with Air India. This, sources said, will include improved growth potential once the merger is complete and better rostering of pilots, which is expected by May.

The pilots have been told that opportunities to earn more will exist post the merger.

Almost 100 per cent of the pilots have now accepted the new contract, sources said, adding that no protest had been expressed by pilots during the virtual town hall.

Emphasising the point that crisis brought on by pilot shortage is nearing an end, Vistara sources also said only 24 flights were cancelled today compared to the 52 affected yesterday.

While there seems to have been progress in talks with the airline, the pilots have underlined their concerns in a detailed 10-point statement.

Vistara pilots have said they feel "overburdened because of a flight crew shortage" and warned that they are already operating at the "limits of what is allowed".

"Pilots are flying at the edge of their maximum flight duty limitations. This is causing major health issues and everyone is falling sick frequently. Pilots are already exceeding their maximum sick leaves in a year and ending up in leave without pay," the pilots have said.

"And, as always, it is easy to blame the pilots (but) calling in sick burns us financially, especially with the new contract where we are paid only if we fly."

The pilots said they had warned the airline's management of fatigue-related concerns.

"Management relies on the Boeing Alertness Model, and says 'flight is safe, so you should have nothing to complain about'. They trust software more than their own pilots... software made by Boeing... really?"

The airline had earlier said it faced a "significant number" of flight cancellations and delays "due to various reasons including crew unavailability". It also said it had decided to temporarily reduce the number of flights it operates "to ensure adequate connectivity across our network".

"We acknowledge and are deeply concerned about the inconvenience this has caused to our customers. Our teams are working towards minimising discomfort to customers," the airline said.

Vistara pilots had called in sick to protest the revised salary structure ahead of the merger with Air India. The pilots were sent a revised pay structure over mail and asked to sign on a short notice. The pilots were also warned that those who did not sign would be left out of the merger.

Pilots have complained that their cost to company (CTC) had been reduced in the new contract, in which they are mandated to fly 40 hours as opposed to 70 hours earlier. Sources, however, said under the new structure pilots were incentivised to fly more, and could, in fact, earn more than they did earlier.

The centre is monitoring the situation and has sought daily reports from Vistara. Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia has asked Vistara to share the steps taken to help inconvenienced passengers.

 

 

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