Government-owned and loss-making Air India has terminated from service 194 cabin crew and 11 pilots over the past year, primarily for unauthorised absence.
It now has 3,400 cabin crew, including 800 hired on contract.
A senior executive said, “Improving the performance parameters is priority. It is important to instil a sense of discipline.
"The airline and its passengers should not suffer due to delays or absenteeism on the part of cockpit and cabin crew.”
Additionally, 11 pilots were removed.
“There have been five-six instances where pilots resigned and moved on to work for another airline without serving the mandatory six months notice period.
"Earlier, chargesheets were not issued against such employees and they often returned to the company. We have now taken strict action against these pilots,” added the executive.
Under the revised norms, pilots who do not serve the specified notice period or breach the bond liabilities will be terminated from service.
If they wish to return, they would have to join at the bottom of the outlined seniority structure and bear the expense of re-training.
The other pilots dismissed were proceeded against on testing positive for alcohol for a second time in pre-flight breath analyser tests and for adversely impacting the operations.
Civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju has issued detailed guidelines for enforcing discipline at all levels.
“Delay in flights due to late coming of cockpit and cabin crew is not acceptable and should be firmly dealt with,” he said in a note dated August 11.
The management says it is prepared to face any legal issues for dismissing permanent employees.
The drive against absenteeism was initiated after an internal audit last year found only 2,800 of the 3,500-odd cabin crew available for duty.
Consequently rules were framed that any employee not reporting to duty for 15 days without an authorised reason was to be issued a notice.
Salary would be stalled for unauthorised absenteeism of a month.
Chargesheets would be issued subsequently and an absence of six months would lead to termination of service.
“We have been making efforts to implement the flight duty time limitations notified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, but have been facing stiff resistance from certain sections of employees who are refusing to work longer hours.
"Employee unions are citing bilateral agreements with the management to block implementation,” said another senior executive.
According to the FDTL norms, pilots and cabin crew should work 35 hours a week or 125 hours a month, subject to a maximum of 1,000 hours a year.
However, the average working hours of cabin crew belonging to the erstwhile (pre-merger) AI’s All India Cabin Crew Association, operating wide-body aircraft, stand at 57 hours a month.
Cabin crew of the erstwhile Indian Airlines’ Air Corporation Employees Union work 68 hours a month.
ACEU cabin crew largely work on flights operating in the domestic sector and to neighbouring international destinations.
Additionally, the cabin crew has been refusing to follow the new auto roster and has demanded restoration of the earlier bidding system.
The second executive explained, “The earlier practice was that cabin crew used to bid for the routes they wished to fly on.
"To improve productivity, we have now put in place an auto roster which allocates routes to cabin crew 15 days before a scheduled flight.
"However, despite this, cabin crew are swapping routes, which is unacceptable.”
For instance, earlier this year, four air hostesses did not turn up for a flight scheduled from Delhi to Australia.
One reached the airport two hours after the departure time and another said she would fly only to a nearby place such as Dubai.
AI suspended the latter hostess; the scheduled flight to Australia was waiting.
The airline subsequently issued a notice, warning cabin crew that if they did not reach airports on time, penal action would be taken.
Image: An Air India Boeing 787 Dreamliner prepares for a flying display, during the 50th Paris Air Show, at the Le Bourget airport near Paris, June 20, 2013. Photographs: Pascal Rossignol/Reuters