Air India rehires retired cabin crew members to overcome shortage

NEW DELHI: Air India has rehired more than 75 per cent of the cabin crewmembers who retired in the past six months or so apparently because a large number of employees at the state-run airline are often unavailable for duty.

The national carrier has rehired about 81 cabin crew members among 238 employees in various departments, including 50 in engineering and 90 inground handling subsidiaries, officials said. These employees have been rehired on contract for one year and will be paid the last drawn salary in most cases, they said.

“We have enough cabin crew but the problem is of availability because a lot of them are on leave or would not fly,” a senior official said on condition of anonymity.

“The problem should be addressed by disciplining them and not hiring people on contract,” he said, although another official said there is a shortage of cabin crew in the airline. The airline has hired 640 cabin crew members in the past one year and is in the process of hiring more, as per the senior official.

Cabin crew shortage is a recurring problem for Air India, which was earlier directed by the government to hire more than 800 cabin crew members to overcome flight cancellations and delays.

Analysts said the problem of unavailability of staff is typical of a government-run company.

Cabin crew “available to fly” in any private carrier would be 80-90 per cent of the total strength at any point in time, but in the case of Air India the figure is much lower, said Shakti Lumba, an aviation analyst who has worked as head of operations at IndiGo andAlliance Air .

“Air India, besides being heavily unionised, also faces the same challenges as any other government company — which is of employees not reporting for work due to multiple types of ‘leave’ due to various reasons,” Lumba said. Rehiring retired employees is not advisable in any case, according to Lumba.

“Hiring young cabin crew members helps in keeping the airline efficient and fresh due to a higher attrition rate. Here, cabin crew’s work life would average five-eight against 30-40 years in Air India, with attendant problems and challenges,” he said.