Ravi Sharma

Airline spending heavily on allowances, accommodation

Most of the commanders are based in Delhi

Several flights have two commanders instead of one

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

With the number of these commanders located 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 breach of civil airline regulations, civil aviation sources say it entails “wasteful expenditure” for the airline since it had to pay commanders a higher flying allowance than a co-pilot even though the commander is only performing the duty of a co-pilot.

In effect, the airline shells out Rs. 8,800 an hour when two commanders are flying, rather than the Rs. 6,600 it would otherwise have done.

In the opinion of aviation experts 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 South East Asia. A number of these flights to destinations like Kuwait, Sharjah, Muscat, Dubai, Singapore and Kula Lumpur, originate from the southern cities of Kohzikode, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. But a majority of the commanders who operate these flights are based in Delhi. This results in a 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 and put him up at a hotel, and, second, pay him for the duration of the flight on an hourly basis, staff on duty (SOD) allowance.

Airline officials told The Hindu that in cities like Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode, both of which operate flights every day to the Gulf, there were just two commanders, resulting in pilots coming from Delhi to operate the flights. A similar situation exists in the other Southern cities as well.

Acknowledging the wasteful expenditure in paying SOD allowances to pilots to operate a flight away from their home base on a regular basis, a spokesperson for Air India said that 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 being planned,” according to the official.