Air India is trying to woo back its former pilots, but the plan may not succeed. The working conditions that prompted the pilots to quit the national carrier in the first place have not changed much since their exit over the past three years.
The move, which has the approval of Ashwani Lohani, chairman and managing director of Air India, would offer a captive base of as many as 173 pilots who left the state-run, full-service carrier between 2012 and 2015, according to media reports.
"If we take back these pilots who have left us in the past, we will not only be saving huge cost on training them, but also save a lot of time, which goes down in the induction process," an Air India source told Press Trust of India.
But there are many reasons why the move is likely to flop, according to a former Air India pilot.
"Most pilots hated the bureaucratic setup. For instance, private airlines obtain the important Airport Entry Pass in a couple of days. Air India takes almost 14 days to do so. The list goes on. The HR policies of AI also change with seasons. There is no consistency and are altered as per Ministry and High Courts orders etc. Rather than wasting time in fighting the system, most pilots quit," he told the International Business Times, India edition on condition of anonymity.
Air India's move of hiring the old pilots is seen as a cost-cutting measure of the airline to curb additional expenditure towards their training. But the airline says that the process of rehiring the pilots is aimed at its expansion plans and for the purpose of starting operations immediately without wasting time. Given the fact that Air India is a state-run airline, some of the pilots might want to opt for a government sector job.
An expert said that while some pilots may want to come and be closer to home, not everyone will. "Whatever cost-saving Air India thinks it can make by hiring trained pilots will pale in comparison to the money Air India wastes elsewhere in its overstaffed operations," Saj Ahmad, who is chief analyst at StrategicAero Research told IBTimes, India.
Some of pilots who moved away from Air India are known to have joined the Gulf carriers due to their tax free perks. "It's not a surprise to learn many former pilots do not want to go back and why would they? Many are flying new airplanes like the 777 and 787 at Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates - all of whom fly to more cities than Air India does and with the slew of corporate benefits that come along as part of their new roles," Ahmad added.
Air India has a market share of about 15 percent in India's domestic air traffic. It will be interesting to see whether the state-run carrier succeeds in its "mission pilot recall."