Air India planes on the tarmac. Photo: AFP

While the state-owned Air India may come under the management of Tata Group by year-end, the airline’s pilots are upset that the pay-cuts imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic have not been lifted.

They point out that while other airlines have significantly rolled back Covid-19 pay cuts, Air India management has not and there was also no word about the payment of arrears and pending dues.

In a letter jointly sent by the Indian Pilots Guild and the Indian Commercial Pilots Association to Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, they said the management had been given “ample time” to redress their grievances, but they have “only weak excuses to offer.”

They said India’s aviation industry was back on track with domestic air traffic increasing from 25% in April 2020 to 100% as of October 2021. “This ground reality has duly been acknowledged by other airlines who have rightfully rolled back the Covid austerity pay cuts significantly for their pilots. In stark contrast, our management is still content hiding behind the Covid-19 pandemic. The massive pay cut of up to 60% for Air India pilots has dramatically diminished our livelihoods,” the letter stated.

They also reiterated that they have gone above and beyond the call of duty during the pandemic, risking life and limb to ensure the success of the government’s ongoing Vande Bharat Mission. This mission was started in May 2020 to evacuate Indians stranded abroad due to coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.

These flights were mainly carried out by Air India, while private airlines played a marginal role. According to civil aviation ministry data, more than 3.82 million passengers had been flown on a total of almost 30,000 flights till August 2 during these missions. The pilots pointed out that the continued pay cut was a “humiliation to our efforts towards the ongoing mission and the dignity of our profession.

“We request that you respect our sacrifices and years of faithful service to the National Carrier before handing us over. We would like to think that if not a graceful send-off, we have at least earned the right to a better legacy than our own management stealing our hard-earned money with impunity,” the letter stated.

The unions had earlier written to the airline’s management, but had no response.

On October 11, the Indian government issued a letter of intent, confirming the sale of its 100% stake in Air India to Tata Group for 180 billion rupees. It had earlier accepted an offer by Talace Pvt Ltd, a unit of the holding company of the salt-to-software conglomerate.

According to the sale terms, the new owners will have to retain all Air India employees for at least one year, after which they can offer a voluntary retirement service. The government has also assured that gratuity, pension funds and post-retirement medical benefits of existing and past employees too would be honored by the new owner.