abhijeet anand
NEW DELHI, 25 JUNE: Air India pilots and cabin crew appear to be arm-twisting the management into getting what they want. Around 2,200 members of the All India Cabin Crew Association have reportedly forced the Air India management to revert to the archaic ‘bidding’ system for allocation of duty, that was discarded last year on the directions of the civil aviation ministry, by threatening to go on strike.
Senior pilots of the de-recognised Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) and Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) have also reportedly registered their protest against the modernised scheme of  rostering, crew management system (CMS).
As a result, Air India may have to shelve modernisation of the roster system and introducing the CMS used by all airlines. The national carrier was in the process of implementing it as it would have ensured adherence to DGCA guidelines on duty hours.
The CMS was acquired from a US-based firm by Air India to improve operational efficiency. Computerisation and IT initiatives were also part of the turnaround plan which was announced for the ailing airline last year.
The schedule rostering system which was manually handled was stopped in March. But, according to well-placed sources, it may be started again after vociferous demands from the All India Cabin Crew Association and a few senior pilots of IPG and ICPA. “In the bidding system, the cabin crew and pilots are allocated duty on a first-come, first-serve basis. There can be favouritism there. On the other hand, CMS allows random allocation of duty hours and it is more equitable as well,” said sources.
A senior AI official said while the airline may revert to the bidding system, it will stick to the civil aviation requirements laid down by the DGCA on FDTL. The FDTL denotes a set of rules and norms which fix flying duty time and rest period among other things to ensure that the flight crew work with an adequate level of alertness for a safe flight, taking into account the fatigue factor.
Political factions led by the NCP and the Shiv Sena have reportedly reared their heads in the All India Cabin Crew Association. Air India officials denied that any of these factions have officially stated that they will go on strike, but their tacit threat may result in the reinstatement of the old system.
The deputy GM (corporate communication) of Air India, Mr G P Rao, however, denied that the airline has decided to revert to the older rostering system under pressure from unions. “There is no threat of strike at present. Some elements are trying to plant these stories,” said Mr Rao.
Sources said the political factions in the unions have been trying to scuttle the efforts of Air India to introduce the computerised rostering system which would bind them to follow the FDTL.
“The scheduling staff had leeway when the manual rostering was done. And the result was that the FDTL laid down in the civil aviation requirements of the DGCA was not followed strictly,” said a source in Air India.
“There was lot of resentment when the CMS was being implemented. Most of them did not want it because then they would have to follow the FDTL guidelines which are laid down by the DGCA,” said the source.