Top India airline to cut flights amid crew protests

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A Vistara aircraft prepares to land at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in MumbaiImage source, Getty Images

A major Indian airline is scaling back operations this month amid widespread flight cancellations and delays due to unavailability of its pilots.

Since 31 March, Vistara has seen nearly 150 flight cancellations and 200 flight delays.

Media reports said the disruption was caused by pilots going on mass sick leave to protest against changes post the airline’s merger with Air India.

Vistara says it is looking into better work-life balance for its pilots.

A Vistara official told the BBC the airline was “scaling back its network temporarily” and that customers would be given refunds for cancelled flights.

According to The Hindu newspaper, at meeting on Wednesday, Vistara CEO Vinod Kannan apologised to pilots for “taxing schedules” and sought their “support” in resolving concerns.

Mr Kannan also said that flight cancellations would continue until the end of the month to create a pilot buffer.

The Tata Group, which holds the majority stake in Vistara, bought debt-ridden Air India – formerly India’s national carrier – from the government for $2.2bn (£1.8bn) in 2021.

It is now in the process of consolidating its airline business as it merges its various entities.

A joint venture between Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, Vistara will invest $250 million for a 25.1% stake in the combined entity once the merger is complete.

Reports over the past few days say pilots at Vistara are unhappy with the new pay structure and work hours offered as part of the merger process.

Pilots have also complained of haphazard rostering practices and raised concerns about their career prospects after the merger which is expected to be completed next year.

According to an NDTV report, pilots have been falling ill with increasing frequency, “flying at the limits of the maximum duty limitations”. This had led to concerns about their health and safety.

A Vistara official told the BBC that the airline acknowledged their “rosters had been utilised to the maximum” and that it was working to modify the roster to ensure a “better work-life balance” for its pilots.

The airline, however, said there had been no significant rise in pilots reporting sick and attributed the delay in flights in March also to other factors such as “bird hits, planned maintenance, weather disruptions and congestion”.

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