Over the past few weeks, the image of India’s largest airline by market share, IndiGo, has taken a hard knock because of a slew of abrupt cancellations, which have angered passengers and drawn flak on social media.
The budget carrier has blamed the cancellations on curtailment of operations at the country’s two major airports, Mumbai and Bangalore, but industry analysts claim IndiGo has mishandled its capacity-addition plans and failed to ensure adequate crew numbers.
The airline’s officials, however, expressed confidence that things were under control and its expansion plans would stay on course. They admitted there was a “slight mismatch” between the projected and the actual availability of pilots, especially commanders, but said things would stabilize by April, Business Standard reports.
IndiGo’s current woes may be traced to its acquisition of Airbus A320neo aircraft. Last year its Pratt and Whitney engines developed problems and many aircraft had to be grounded.
This increased the bench strength and the employee wage bill, as the airline had to continue paying for an underutilized crew. So it stopped hiring pilots.
However, once problems with the Airbus A320neo were fixed and the supply resumed, the budget airline did not have enough pilots to fly them.
It is currently adding one aircraft a week and existing pilots are being made to fly extra hours. Some have even quit because of the extra workload.
Poaching commanders from rival airlines has also become difficult as they need to serve a notice period of one year. So the only course left is to hire pilots from overseas, especially Latin America and West Asia, where pilots are facing job losses.
But inducting expatriate pilots takes time as they have to secure various clearances from security agencies and the pilots have to undergo various tests conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.
The budget airline hopes to induct 100 expat pilots and upgrade 200 of its first officers to mitigate the shortage.