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Air India to curtail US flights due to shortage of staff: CEO

Passengers flying to the US on Air India may see cancellations during the peak summer travel season as a crew shortage forces the flag carrier to trim popular flights to the country, officials said on Monday, reports Neha Tripathi for HT.

“As of now, six weekly flights to US, three to Newark and three to San Francisco, will be trimmed due to crew shortage for the coming 2-3 months,” said Campbell Wilson, CEO & MD said.

Air India’s Delhi to San Francisco flight will be cancelled for over three months, its flight to Newark will be cancelled for over a month, and the flight from Mumbai to New York will be cancelled for the entirety of May, according to internal operations communication accessed by HT.

“Air India’s flight AI 105/106 will be cancelled from March 26 to April 29, its flight AI 119/ 116 from Mumbai to New York will be cancelled for the entire May and its flight AI 173/ 174 from Delhi to San Francisco will be cancelled from March 26 to June 29,” an official said, declining to be named.

Air India operates 47 weekly flights to the US, which include seven to Chicago, 14 to New York, six to Newark, 17 to San Francisco and three to Dulles, a spokesperson said.

“We are reducing frequencies on routes that won’t see any impact on passengers as they will be accommodated on other flights,” Wilson said. “We are hiring 500 cabin crew every month. Around 1,700 captains will be on duty soon. These will include less than 10% expat pilots.”

The crew shortage has also compelled the airline to operate narrow body aircraft to Dubai and Bangkok instead of operating it’s B787 aircraft. These flights will include AI 330, AI 332, AI 331 and AI 333.

Air India, which was acquired by the Tata Group last year, is reducing its long haul flights due to crew shortage at a time it offered a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) that ended on June 1 last year, an official said, seeking anonymity. The scheme allowed a notice period of three months, which implied that all cabin crew who had applied for it would have been released by September.

“But the management, to meet the shortage, extended it repeatedly,” the official said. “It was first announced to be extended till November, then December- January, March and then April. Currently, the VRS is extended until July 2023.”

Around 150 cabin crew from Mumbai and around 250 from other locations had applied for the retirement scheme.

“Air India had more than 500 retirements in the last three years. For the current fleet size, the airline is short of almost 700 crew,” the official said. “For its revised planned induction, it will need an additional 3,000 crew. However, if one counts retirements, that could rise to 5,000 additional cabin crew.”

The airline on Friday announced the second phase of the VRS, but excluded cabin crew and security due to the staff shortage.

“Out of the 1,500-1,900 newly recruited crew members, hardly any of them have obtained US visa appointments though they are getting interview calls, and despite some of them being recruited in last June and July,” another airline official said, wishing to remain unnamed.

The cabin crew shortage has become more acute because of Air India’s increased fleet and crew utilisation, almost 100 hours per crew on wide body aircraft. (Source: HT)


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