Exasperated by Air India's relentless flight delays and dismal on-time performance, the government has passed an unprecedented order to deduct the pay of any employee who reports late and consequentially forces a delayed take off.
Issued by aviation secretary V Somasundaran, the order covers pilots, cabin crew, engineering staff, ground handlers and even in-flight catering suppliers. It was Somasundaran's 2nd order within a week. He had earlier directed AI to hire 800 cabin crew to mitigate delays caused by a crippling staff shortage.
"Secretary (aviation) has noted that flight delays are causing monetary losses besides loss of reputation to AI. (He has directed that) accountability for delays has to be fixed... In case of delays on account of late reporting by cabin crew, pilots or delays on account of engineering/ground handling personnel or late catering by caterers, the loss would be recovered from them," AI ED operations, Captain A K Govil, said in a circular issued last Friday.
Govil adds: "Salaries shall be paid only after related deductions have been effected. Strict disciplinary action shall be taken against repeat offenders."
The secretary, who had earlier directed immediate hiring of cabin crew, has asked the airline to install biometric attendance systems at all flight dispatch units "to record attendance of all pilots and cabin crew in real time basis."
Senior AI employees were not impressed by the political moves.
"The government has to understand that the airline must be run by aviation professionals and not IAS officers in the ministry or in AI board,” said one. “Over 80% of flight delays are caused by a crippling shortage of cabin crew. We are also short of pilots. Should the minister, secretary or chairman's salary be cut if flight delays happen due to their failure to hire people in time?”