Air India operates flights under the Vande Bharat scheme to bring back stranded Indians. (File)

New Delhi:

Some 60 Air India pilots operating repatriation flights to bring back Indians stranded abroad have tested positive for coronavirus, the airline has said in a letter to the government.

The Vande Bharat mission to repatriate Indians came “with a heavy price to pay for those on the frontline. As of date, at least 60 plus Pilots have been tested Covid positive,” senior-most pilots of the national carrier have written in the letter addressed to Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri.

“This has had a ‘devastating effect’ on their family members,” said the letter, protesting the government’s decision to drastically cut pilots’ salaries.

The government decision to reduce the salary of pilots by up to 75% is “discriminatory, disproportionate and arbitrary and could have a disastrous psychological impact which could trigger ‘desperate and extreme acts,’ as has been repeatedly proven many times in the past,” warned the senior pilots.

The airline on Thursday issued a statement that unlike other airlines that have laid off a large number of workers, no employee of Air India will lose their job.

“Recent decisions of the Air India board regarding rationalization of staff cost were reviewed in a meeting at the Ministry of Civil Aviation this evening. The meeting reiterated that unlike other carriers which have laid off a large number of their employees, no employee of AirIndia will be laid off,” the national carrier said on Twitter.

“There has been no reduction in the basic pay, DA (dearness allowance) and HRA (house rent allowance) of any category of employees. The rationalization of allowances had to be implemented on account of the difficult financial condition of the airline that was exacerbated by COVID-19,” Air India said.

The flying crew will be paid on the basis of the actual number of hours flown, it added.

“As domestic and international operations expand to reach pre-COVID levels and the financial position of Air India improves, the rationalization of allowances will be reviewed,” the airline said.

Air India has a debt of around Rs 70,000 crore. The government has been trying to sell off the airline but no deal has been closed so far.

Air India pilots were the first to fly into Wuhan to rescue stranded Indians and now operates flights under the Vande Bharat scheme to bring back stranded Indian nationals from a host of countries around the world.

More than 7,73,000 Indians have returned from across the world. “It will always be our endeavour to reach out to every stranded Indian with a helping hand,” said the Minister.

On July 16, Hardeep Puri said: “You have to decide if you want Air India to survive or do you want to do this. If Air India is to pack up, none of them will get a job. Today, there is a surplus of aircraft and trained people available.”

The minister was justifying Air India’s decision to send certain employees on leave without pay for up to five years.

Air India had said that its financial situation is very challenging due to the coronavirus pandemic and its leave without pay scheme for employees is a “win-win” for them as well as the management.

Travel restrictions in India and other countries to fight COVID-19 have severely hit airlines not just in the country but across the world. All airlines in India have taken cost-cutting measures such as pay cuts, Leave Without Pay and trimming the workforce.



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