Saturday, April 04, 2020

Wuhan & IC 814 heroes among 61 pilots ‘rested’

New Delhi: The coronavirus pandemic has done something that the hijackers of Indian Airlines’ flight IC 814 in December 1999 could not — impact the flying career of Captain Devi Sharan who was operating that fateful flight on an Airbus A300.
The retirement age in Air India is 58 and many senior pilots are hired on contract on attaining that milestone. Pilots can fly commercially till they turn 65.
Air India had retained the IC 814 commander, who for last eight years is flying the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, on contract two years ago. Earlier this week, AI temporarily suspended the post-retirement contract of 61 pilots, including Captain Sharan. Among those on this list is Captain S H Reza who was one of the four pilots operating first of the two special jumbo jet charters sent to Wuhan on January 31 and February 1 to fly out Indians stranded there.

Captain Reza later got a formal appreciation letter from the government.
Captain Sharan, who joined IA in 1985 on the Boeing 737 classic and was widely applauded for his calm handling of the IC 814 crisis, refused to comment on the issue, saying he is “not authorised to speak to the media.”

A senior pilot who has flown with Captain Sharan said: “At 60, we have five years of flying left. Hopefully things will get resolved and there will be a full recovery that will see us back in the flight deck.” Amen to that!

AI’s move came as a cost-saving measure because corona has dealt a body blow to commercial passengers flights and airline revenues. All airlines are taking similar steps to cut costs and somehow survive the invisible virus’ deadly attack on both human life and livelihoods. Highly experienced pilots like Captain Sharan, who are of the rank of examiner and instructor, were retained by airlines due to a crippling shortage of captains in peak travel times witnessed not so long back. Today, a large number of airlines are on the verge of closure with their fleets grounded.
04/04/20 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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