Air India is grappling with a workforce shortage as it expands its wings in international skies. CNBC-TV18 has learnt that the airline is facing a severe crunch in trained and experienced pilots to cater to its expansion drive. People in the know also said that Air India needs around 200 senior pilots to operate the 20 new weekly flights it has announced for Birmingham, London and San Francisco.
Air India is inducting more wide-body planes into its fleet for the new long-haul routes including five Boeing 777s and is also re-inducting some of its grounded wide-body planes. But induction of these planes would need more pilots and finding experienced pilots for planes like B-777 in the domestic market is not easy. Currently, only Air India and Vistara operate a wide-body fleet, consisting of Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft.
As per sources, Air India is looking to overcome the shortfall by onboarding foreign pilots who come at a much higher salary as compared to Indian pilots.
More ultra-long-haul flights would also require more cabin crew. Sources said the airline will need around 900-1,000 additional crew to operate on the new flights to the US & UK. It is learnt that the crunch has worsened with about 450 crew members opting for voluntary retirement with their release date on Nov 30. The airline has offered the retiring crew a choice to extend their service by another two months as it is unable to find their replacements at this stage.
Sources said the airline had trained about 200 crew since the Tata Group took over, but they haven't been deployed yet. That's because these crew members don't have the necessary documents like the US visa without which they cannot be deployed on flights to the US & beyond.
CNBC-TV18 is awaiting Air India's response on the matter.