Air India, Boeing S.C.s 1st customer, faces pilot strike
As Boeing South Carolina prepares its first Dreamliner for delivery to Air India next month, the South Asian airline has more pressing concerns — striking pilots.
More than 100 of the flag carrier’s pilots stayed away from work Tuesday, prompting the cancellation of at least four international flights.
According to several published reports, the pilots called in sick to protest their wages, working conditions and a plan to train their colleagues from the former Indian Airlines in how to fly the long-anticipated Dreamliners.
The rancor between the pilots, their unions and the state-owned airline has been simmering for months, but seemed to escalate over the weekend.
In response, Air India has fired 10 of the striking pilots; derecognized their union, the Indian Pilots Guild, and sealed their offices and sent doctors to the pilots’ homes, according to the reports.
The government blasted the work stoppage, and all sides hinted at further action in the days to come.
Representatives for Boeing South Carolina and Air India did not return calls and emails seeking comment Tuesday. The flap, which may have involved as many as 200 of Air India’s roughly 1,500 pilots, is just the latest turbulence for the national airline.
Air India ordered dozens of Dreamliners and other Boeing planes in 2005 before merging with Indian Airlines in 2007. The combined carrier has been losing money and making gloomy headlines ever since.
Last month the Indian government approved an eight-year, $5.8 billion bailout package for the airline, which also has sought financing through the U.S. Export-Import Bank and other lenders to pay for its Boeing planes.
In February, Air India was said to be seeking $1 billion in compensation payments from Boeing for the more than three-year delay in getting its Dreamliners. In March, Boeing Commercial Airplanes CEO Jim Albaugh denied reports that Boeing had agreed to pay half that demand.
Meanwhile, the pilot unions have been battling in court over who gets training to fly the much-hyped jets, which feature the newest technologies in commercial aviation.
Last week Air India announced that it would fly its first Dreamliners on domestic and short-haul international routes instead of the long-haul international routes the plane was designed to fly. The rationale was to give crews more training opportunities.
Also last week, the airline was the first to be fined by the U.S. Department of Transportation for “failing to post customer service and tarmac delay contingency plans on its website as well as failing to adequately inform passengers about its optional fees.” The civil penalty was $80,000.
Boeing officials have previously expressed confidence in the airline, which will take the first four S.C.-assembled 787s this year. The first was rolled out to great fanfare on April 27.
Air India was not there for that milestone but is expected in North Charleston in June to test, then fly away the first plane put together at the non-union facility.