Air India has 47 weekly flights to the US, including three flights to Dulles and seven to Chicago, 14 to New York, six to Newark, and 17 to San Francisco.
As a result of a crew shortfall, Air India’s flag carrier may have to reduce popular flights to the US during the busiest travel period of the summer, officials said on Monday.
Campbell Wilson, chief executive officer and managing director, announced that six weekly flights to the US, three to Newark and three to San Francisco, will be reduced over the next two to three months due to a lack of staff.
According to an internal operations memo, Air India would cancel its flights from Delhi to San Francisco for more than three months, from Newark for more than a month, and from Mumbai to New York for the full month of May.
“Air India’s flight AI 105/106 will be cancelled from March 26 to April 29, its flight AI 119/116 from Mumbai to New York will be cancelled for the entire May, and its flight AI 173/174 from Delhi to San Francisco will be cancelled from March 26 to June 29,” an official who declined to be named said.
A representative for Air India stated the airline has 47 weekly flights to the US, including seven to Chicago, fourteen to New York, six to Newark, seventeen to San Francisco, and three to Dulles.
The passengers will be accommodated on other flights, so we are cutting frequencies on routes where there won’t be any impact, according to Wilson. “We hire 500 cabin crew members each month. Soon, 1,700 captains will be on call. Less than 10% of these will be pilots from abroad.
The airline’s decision to use narrow body aircraft instead of its B787s to fly to Dubai and Thailand was also forced by the personnel shortage. There will be four of these flights: AI 330, AI 332, AI 331 and AI 333.
Flights to the US will be fewer during the busiest travel season in the summer, which will push up ticket prices and force travellers to prefer Gulf carriers, according to aviation analyst Mohan Ranganathan.
An insider who requested anonymity stated that Air India, which was acquired by the Tata Group last year, is lowering its long-haul flights due to a personnel shortage at a time when it offered a voluntary retirement programme (VRS) that expired on June 1 last year. The three-month notice period provided by the plan meant that all applicants for cabin staff would have been let go by September.
The official claimed that the management had repeatedly prolonged it in order to address the issue. It was initially announced that it would be prolonged through November, then through December and January, March, and finally April. The VRS is now extended till July 2023.
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Directorate General of Civil Aviation
“In the past three years, more than 500 Air India employees have retired. According to the official, the airline is short around 700 crew members given the size of its existing fleet. “It will require an additional 3,000 workers for its amended planned introduction. Yet, if retirements are taken into account, there could be 5,000 more cabin personnel.
Due to a staffing deficit, the airline launched the second phase of the VRS on Friday but left out security and cabin personnel. Although they are receiving interview calls and some of them were hired in June and July of last year, very few of the 1,500–1,900 newly hired crew members have received US visa appointments, according to another airline employee who wished to remain anonymous.
Due to Air India’s increasing fleet and staff utilization, which amounts to nearly 100 hours per crew on wide-body aircraft, the shortage of cabin crew has grown more severe.
Because of this, around 800 crew members are “high on hours” (HOH) in accordance with Directorate General of Civil Aviation standards and cannot be used,” the official stated. Now, more than 350 cabin crew members in Mumbai and about 400 in Delhi are in a condition known as HOH, which occurs when a crew is on the verge of exceeding the DGCA flying limits each year and must be benched.
Pilots may fly for 8,000 hours per year and staff may work 1,000 hours
Another airline executive claims that in November and December, Air India also started training new hires on B787 aircraft so that the crew may be utilized on some foreign flights while awaiting the US visas. The airline recently recruited Riya Tours as documentation liaison for crew visas, according to the official. “This will make it easier for US visas,” the official said.
An industry expert who asked to remain anonymous said that although Air India restored all of its pre-Covid flights and turned its grounded aircraft back into service, it failed to take into account the more than 200 crew members who have retired since the pandemic, others who have taken VRS, and the fact that there had been no hiring prior to the company’s privatisation in January 2022.
According to Air India’s 2017 manpower policy document and the 2019 Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) new standards as revised, there were 1,700 crew members and 250 pilots needed for the fleet and routes on the day of takeover. Following then, more than 25 aircraft were re-inducted, and numerous additional routes were opened, according to him.
The number has since increased due to retirements, VRS, fleet and route expansions, and other factors, totaling 3,000 crew members and 370 pilots now.
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