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Air India pilots demand vaccination on priority, say ‘We’ll stop work’

By Priyanka Verma 
Updated Date

Air India pilots have refused to fly unless the airline gets them ‘urgently’ vaccinated for Covid. The move comes after a large number of AI crew have tested Covid positive in the last one year, and there have been some casualties too.

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The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), union of erstwhile Indian Airlines’ pilots, told the management on Tuesday that its members and their family members are “are struggling to get oxygen cylinders. We are left to fend for ourselves for hospitalisation.”

“With no health care support to the flying crew, no insurance, and a massive opportunistic pay cut, we are in no position to continue risking the lives of our pilots without vaccination. Our finances are already spread thin covering our bedridden colleagues and provisioning for families lest we inadvertently infect them with the deadly virus that is an ever-present occupational hazard for us,” ICPA has written to AI management.

“If Air India fails to set up vaccination camps on a Pan India basis for the flying crew above the age of 18 years on priority, we will ‘STOP WORK’,” the pilots have warned.

At the moment also 10 AI crew members — two pilots, one of them Covid positive and eight cabin crew, one positive — are quarantined in Rome for 10 days since last Wednesday. Quarantine rules globally have been changing frequently and as AI has the largest international network among all Indian carriers, its crew faces maximum uncertainty.

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The crew of Delhi-Amritsar-Rome flight of last Wednesday was not supposed to be quarantined and was to fly back the next day. But a rule change while they were winging their way to Italy saw them being quarantined with 230 passengers after the captain and a cabin crew members tested positive on arrival. “When the crew gets in such situations abroad, there is little that AI can do. Rules of local authorities there are supreme and even if we try, we are not often able to even supply Indian food to our quarantined crew members,” said sources.

Just contrast this with what the crew of United recently did when it operated a New York-Delhi flight. The local authorities here asked them to get tested for Covid. They refused that, saying Indian rules exempt crew members of quick turn around flights who do not alight from the aircraft and go back to their home country on the return aircraft from RT-PCR testing. When the authorities here insists on testing them, the crew flew the Boeing 777 back to New York without boarding passengers from Delhi.

“We have gone above and beyond during this pandemic, risking life and limb to ensure our fellow citizens’ well-being. Due to our unwavering support, Vande Bharat Mission and relief operations continue to run smoothly even in the face of a resurgence of even deadlier strains of Covid-19. All we got in return for our dedication and sacrifices is a massive discriminatory pay cut,” ICA letter to the management says.

Private airlines like IndiGo have said they will get their employees vaccinated. The Union aviation ministry has asked states to treat aviation workers as priority segment for Covid jabs.

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