60 AI pilots involved in Vande Bharat mission test Covid +ve

New Delhi: At least 60 pilots involved in the Vande Bharat Mission to fly back Indians stranded abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic have tested positive for the disease, Air India’s Executive Pilots Committee said in a letter on Thursday to civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri. The letter, which requested Puri to rescind the national carrier’s decision to revise wages last week, added at least one pilot has lost a family member to Covid-19 and many others have also been infected.

The Centre this month said 5,03,990 Indians stranded in 137 countries have been brought back to the country as part of the repatriation mission since it began in May following the suspension of regular international flights due to the pandemic .

The letter cited salary cuts and compulsory leave without pay and added it could have a potentially disastrous psychological impact and lead to “desperate and extreme acts”.

The Air India’s Board last week approved leave without pay scheme for its permanent employees for six months to two years, which is extendable to up to five years. The national carrier defended its decision saying it is in a very challenging financial situation and taking recourse to several initiatives to ensure the continuance of its operations. It has also decided to cut salaries of its cockpit and cabin crew with effect from April 1.

“Our Association is also extremely concerned about the potentially disastrous psychological impact that the massive forced pay cuts and Compulsory Leave Without Pay scheme may create on some employees. We shudder to think of the kind of desperate and extreme acts that could be triggered off because of the prevailing situation– as has been repeatedly proven many times in the past,” the letter said, a copy of which HT has seen.

The letter also cautioned against litigation from employees. “As executives, we shall always support all acts and decisions that are financially prudent and serve the company’s best interests. Therefore, we believe that a rising stack of litigations and financial liabilities (contingent and current), arising out of pending financial dues owed to employees could potentially destroy our organization’s future health, and more so, would be unfairly transferred to any prospective buyer of Air India, in case the impending strategic disinvestment.”

Air India’s Executive Pilots Committee is one of the pilot’s union of the national carrier.

The Indian Commercial Pilot Association on Monday also wrote to the national carrier’s management, saying changes in the wage settlement would be illegal and such a situation has the “potential to flair to unprecedented magnitude.”

Air India chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal last week said the national carrier was working on four fronts to reduce costs by reducing the debt, cutting on lease rentals, trimming staffing costs, and reducing operating costs.

The cost-cutting drive dovetails with a government plan to sell its entire stake in Air India amid increasing debt and mounting losses. The Centre, in January, started the process by releasing an information document for investors and offering access to financial and other data of Air India and its subsidiaries.

The government’s entire stake in Air India, its 100% stake in low-cost subsidiary Air India Express Ltd, and 50% stake in ground handling unit Air India SATS Airport Services Private Limited are on offer.

An attempt to auction a majority stake almost two years ago failed to draw any bids. The airline’s accumulated debt is estimated to be more than Rs 69,000 crore. It posted a loss of Rs 8,556 crore in the financial year 2018-19, as against a net loss of Rs 5,348 crore in the previous financial year.

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