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‘Sick’ pilots ground Jet Airways

Jet Airways Boeing 737-700 VT-JNGOver 40% of the 760 national pilots at India’s second largest airline, Jet Airways, have reported sick today causing widespread disruptions of flights and frayed tempers at airports across India.

Since 22:00 (10pm) IST last night, a total of 163 captains and 198 first officers, reported sick leading to cancellation or disruption of over 186 flights – 154 domestic and 32 international services affecting about 13,000 passengers. As per the airline it has operated only 25% of its scheduled flights as of 1200 IST today.

The pilots union, the National Aviators Guild (NAG) is protesting against the dismissal of two senior pilots last month by the airline, and has been demanding the reinstatement of the pilots.

As per a statement issued to Bangalore Aviation by Jet Airways

As per the directions of the Regional Labour Commissioner, Jet Airways has been in a conciliation process with the pilots. The Regional Labour Commissioner had categorically stated that any strike by the pilots during the pendency of conciliation, would be deemed an illegal act under Industrial Disputes Act.

While the statement claims

Jet Airways has taken all steps to minimize the inconvenience caused to the traveling public and is making all efforts to operate the maximum number of flights. However, perforce some flights may have to be combined or cancelled, we have made arrangements to accommodate our guests on alternative flights.

there are widespread reports of angry passengers who have been left in the lurch thanks to this ‘sickout’.

However, it appears that the carrier’s low fare subsidiary, JetLite, has operated all its flights as per the normal schedule.

Similarly, Jet Airways has pulled in its foreign pilots from leave and standby to operate its wide body long haul flights.

Jet Airways states it has moved an application in the High Court to pass an order restraining the NAG and its members from going on any form of strike and the High Court has passed an order of such restraint

Since the global slowdown, airlines across India have been slashing costs, including downsizing of personnel and pilots are no exception.

While I would advocate that both Jet Airways and NAG should sit down, talk and sort this issue out, I also caution the pilots that this whole situation is very similar to that of any skilled industry in India.

HR teams in technology and aviation had a harrowing time during the last five boom years when skilled employees across the nation ran amok, wanting and exercising the ability to resign at a moment’s notice and take up alternate employment for “career advancement” reasons.

Bidding wars were routine, with employees, new and existing, brandishing offer letters and appointment orders, demanding all kinds of promotions, benefits and remunerations. It was common place to have an employee not show up to work on a Monday sending in their resignation by email over the weekend or sometimes not at all.

However, now that the economy has slowed down and there are surplus employees, the issue of “job security” has suddenly taken centre stage.

These same employees who wanted the ability to resign and walk out, should be ready to accept termination of their career equally fast.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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