Mumbai/New Delhi: Cash-strapped Air India has been spending around ten percent of the airline`s total salary bill to pay its team of over 160 foreign pilots and hiring firms.
As revealed by the airline in response to an Right To Information application, NACIL paid Rs 93.29 crore towards salaries and expenses to the agencies which provided expatriate pilots to Air India and Air India Express last fiscal.
Of this, Air India paid Rs 46.63 crore (USD 93,27,644.23) while its budget arm Air India Express spent Rs 46.66 crore (USD 93,33,732.11) on the expat pilots during the same period.
Unlike several other carriers across the globe, Air India does not recruit pilots on its own but hires them through placement firms like Rishworth Aviation Limited.
"In addition, the company spends up to Rs 7,500 per day to accomodate foreign pilots in expensive hotels and provide chauffeur-driven air conditioned cars to them for non-flying duties as well," a Indian Pilots Guild spokesperson said.
The company has kept these pilots out of its cost-restructuring plan, which include proposals to cut wages, allowances and incentives, the spokesperson said.
There are 163 expatriate pilots in Air India, besides 1,253 Indian pilots and about 200 trainees.
With a total staff strength of 30,505, the airline is targeting lowering total manpower costs from Rs 839 crore in the first two quarters of the current financial year to Rs 650 crore in the next two quarters, official figures show.
As per the reply to the RTI application on pilots, a Boeing-737 Commander is paid USD 10,000, a B-777 commander USD 12,700 and B-747 and Airbus A-310 commanders USD 8,750 as salary. They also get a yearly bonus of USD 12,000, USD 13,000 and USD 15,000 on completion of one, two and three/four years in service respectively.
The expats are being paid up to 25 percent more than Indian pilots and given nine days of fully-paid leave every month, the spokesperson claimed.
These pilots are also provided business class tickets to commute every month to any worldwide destination of their choice while Indian pilots are not even granted 30 days of leave a year and they travel economy class, he said.
"Not only this, when an expat pilot is on leave, his accomodation remains booked in the hotel irrespective of the vacation period," an Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) leader alleged.
The pilots unions have been protesting the proposals to slash their salaries and allowances and drawing comparisons with the working conditions of their expatriate counterparts.
The executive pilots or commanders had also held a five-day stir in September on the issue.