The national airline Air India, which ran up a loss of over Rs.5,500 in 2008-09, has been directed by the government to implement cost cutting measures. It may be looking to relocate some of its commanders, who fly for the erstwhile Indian Airlines, away from Delhi.

With the number of commanders in Delhi stated to far exceed the optimum number, the airline has been operating many flights with two commanders (and not the statutory one commander and a co-pilot). While operating a flight with two commanders is not a breech of civil airline regulations, civil aviation sources say it entails “wasteful expenditure” since the airline has to pay commanders a higher flying allowance rather than a co-pilot, even though the commander only performs the duty of a co-pilot.

In effect, the airline shells out Rs.8,800 per hour when two commanders are flying, rather than Rs.6,600.

Aviation experts opine that “no airline can afford to adopt such inefficient practices, leave alone an entity that has been directed to save money.”

The problem is said to be particularly bad in the erstwhile Indian Airlines' flights to west Asia and southeast Asia. A number flights to destinations like Kuwait, Sharjah, Muscat, Dubai, Singapore and Kula Lumpur, originate from the southern cities of Calicut, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. But a majority of commanders who operate these flights are based in Delhi. This results in wasteful expenditure for the airline since it has to first fly down the commander as a passenger, a day prior to his operating the flight, put him up at a hotel, and pay him staff on duty (SOD) allowance for the duration of the flight on an hourly basis.

Airline officials told The-Hindu that in cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Calicut, both of which operated flights every day to the Gulf, there were just two commanders, resulting in pilots coming from Delhi. A similar situation exists in the other southern cities too.

Acknowledging the wasteful expenditure in paying SOD allowances to pilots to operate a flight away from their home base on a regular basis, an Air India spokesperson said the airline was looking to rationalise and computerise air crew postings. “We are aware that we need to distribute aircrew on a more rational basis. A more effective roster for aircrew movement is currently being planned.”

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