New Delhi: Trouble is again brewing in Air India ahead of the upcoming busy holiday season, with a section of pilots resenting a proposed 15 percent cut in their allowances, saying such a reduction would place their pay packets below what was prevailing in the market.
The pilots feel such a cut would be substantial as about 60 percent of their total pay package comprised various allowances, while airline officials say a 15 percent slash in allowances was being effected for all sections of employees of the cash-strapped national carrier, including the pilots.
Airline officials downplayed the threat of a strike or an agitation by pilots over the issue, saying the final salary structure would be decided only after negotiations with the cockpit crew were over.
A few rounds of talks have already taken place between the two sides in the recent past.
The officials said there was no proposal to cut salaries which were being brought in tune with the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) guidelines for all employees, barring pilots, engineers and cabin crew. It was only the allowances where the reduction was being proposed, they said.
Most of the discontented pilots operate narrow-body aircraft like Airbus-320s on domestic and nearby foreign routes and belong to the erstwhile Indian Airlines. The total pay packet for a commander in this category ranges between Rs 4-5 lakh a month, while a co-pilot gets between Rs 2-3 lakh.
The largest reduction would be for executive commanders of wide-body aircraft, whose monthly pay packet could fall by close to Rs one lakh to around Rs 7.5 lakh. Senior wide-body pilots, who fly on international routes, get around Rs 6-7 lakh, while the co-pilots have a package of Rs 5-6 lakh.
While the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has not accepted the new structure and said it would hold further discussions amongst its cadre, the airline management has asked the pilots to respond in 21 days.
Air India's total staff bill comes to around Rs 3,200 crore, of which one-third or around Rs 1,100 crore goes to pay the pilots alone, who number around 1,600 compared with the total staff strength of about 25,000.
The officials said the proposal to slash the allowances by 15 percent across the board would help the airline to earn Rs 250 crore annually.
They said the airline, which was earlier the market leader in terms of pay and perks which matched global levels, was now in the process of adjusting them to the market levels prevalent in India due to the financial crunch.
Maintaining that some foreign carriers from the Gulf and Southeast Asia were currently on a head-hunting spree for pilots in India, they said the problem was that the work environment there did not suit many pilots of Air India who wished to switch over.
However, sources among pilots said the best would leave as large pay packets were being offered by some of these foreign airlines to wean them away.
They also pointed out that new openings were in the offing with the opening up of new Indian carriers like AirAsia India and the Tata-Singapore Airlines venture.
The trouble for Air India comes just two years after it suffered a 58-day strike by wide-body pilots demanding better career progression.
The strike was called off after the court's intervention as the airline sacked 101 pilots and derecognised the Indian Pilots' Guild (IPG) spearheading the agitation.
The trouble is staring at Air India at a time when the carrier is bracing for holiday season and is preparing to join the Star Alliance soon. The global airlines grouping a few days ago saw a three-day strike by pilots of a major partner, Lufthansa, that led to the cancellation of over 8,000 flights across the globe.