Air India has canceled leaves for all its pilots as flight demand rises. According to an internal memo, the carrier has called in all its pilots except those absent for urgent reasons. The recalling of pilots could signal an expansion in domestic and international flights soon.
Back to work
The sudden revocation of all pilot leave comes after Air India sent out an internal memo on Monday. According to The Times Of India, the memo said, “all leave for cockpit crew stands withdrawn with immediate effect. However, leave may be granted in extreme cases depending on the urgency on a case to case basis.”
The decision to bring back pilots comes at an interesting time for the airline. Domestic passenger numbers are quickly reaching pre-pandemic levels, but airline capacity remains limited to 80% for now. However, with over 300,000 passengers flying within India daily, the caps could be removed soon.
The airline’s move could signal that domestic capacity limits will be lifted soon, with senior Air India officials saying the number of AI flights will go up soon. Another possibility is that India plans to open up international flights further, prompting Air India to bring back more pilots.
The increase in pilots available also coincides with the timing of the release of the summer schedule for airlines. Coming into effect from the end of March, the government has long signaled that it wants to see airlines make a 100% domestic recovery in the early months of 2020.
The winter season (November-March) saw airlines only operate 13,000 flights in total, although this figure was later raised thanks to an easing of limits (60% to 80%). However, considering passenger numbers have now doubled since November, the limits are quickly making less sense for the market.
The government has been hesitant to remove fare and capacity caps in the last two months despite relatively strong traffic. Expect more details about the summer schedule in the coming weeks.
Fears of a second wave
While airlines might be ramping up operations, there are fears that India is heading into a second wave of cases. After months of consistently falling cases, infections have started ticking upwards in major cities like Pune and Mumbai. If these trends hold, airline recovery could quickly start sliding back.
However, a second wave is unlikely to hurt passenger numbers in the way seen in Europe. Instead, expect a lower but marked decline in daily passengers as cases rise. For now, both airlines and the government is hoping early action can stave off any impact on the economy.
What do you think about Air India’s decision? Are flights going to increase soon? Let us know in the comments!