Divestment-bound national carrier Air India has sent a batch of 17 senior A320 pilots — who are trained for critical low-visibility operations — for Boeing command course in the midst of the foggy season, a move that has raised questions. The decision has led to a severe shortage of senior pilots who are trained for low-visibility operations and they are required to be deployed on the northern routes during the winter season. According to an airline source privy to the development, the move raises questions as these pilots are critical to winter operations in the North. Even after completion of the ground course, these pilots would have to wait for at least five to six months to get simulator training as there is already a huge backlog now, the source said. “These senior A320 commanders are CAT-II/III qualified pilots, but have been sent to do their ground classes, which will go for about two months, for B787 flying in the thick of the winter.
“Air India was reluctant to send them, but when the pressure came from a Union minister, who has nothing to with the aviation sector, the airline had to give in,” the source told PTI. Further, the source said one of the pilots among the 17 is close to the Union minister and wanted the minister to intervene to get the command training on the wide-body plane. The CAT-III-B narrow-body fleet commanders have been sent to the Central Training Establishment in Hyderabad for a two- month ground classes on Boeing Dreamliners amid the foggy season, the source said. Category-III is an advanced navigation system that empowers an aircraft to land under foggy conditions. Category-III-A approach is a precision instrument approach and landing that enables a plane to land with a runway visual range (RVR) of 200 metres while Category-III-B helps in landing with an RVR of under-50 metres.
“Moreover, after these pilots finish ground classes, they’ll have to go back to fly A320s as the Mumbai simulator facility for training is unlikely to be available to them for the next 5-6 months due to a huge backlog,” the source added. Alleging that there is severe shortage of commanders on the A320 fleet, the source said sending away as many as 17 senior pilots at this time of the year would have an adverse impact on operations, particularly in the winter season which is dubious for the fog. “Many flights, including a Mumbai-Chandigarh flight, were delayed recently due to shortage of pilots trained in low visibility operations,” the source said.
Queries sent to Air India spokesperson G P Rao on the matter did not fetch any response even after a week. The foggy season in the North generally sets in from early December and lasts till mid-February. During this period, domestic airlines are required to deploy only CAT- III-B compliant aircraft and trained crew while operating flights in and out of New Delhi, Jaipur and Lucknow airports. These aerodromes are CAT-III-B-compliant airports.