A section of serving and retired pilots have strongly criticised the de-rostering of the captain and the crew of a New York-Delhi flight in which a male flier urinated on a female co-passenger in a drunken state.
On Saturday, Air India's CEO and Managing Director Campbell Wilson issued a statement in which he said that four cabin crew and one pilot have been issued show cause notices and de-rostered pending investigation.
Wilson, in his statement, hasn't specified any reason for taking action against all five of them.
In fact, his statement further shows that the airline was aware of the incident just a day after it took place on November 26 as he wrote, "Upon receipt of the complaint on November 27, Air India acknowledged receipt and commenced engaging in correspondence with the affected passenger's family on November 30".
He didn't disclose if the complaint came through the flight crew and the captain or someone else.
However, sources in Air India confirmed that when the flight in question AI102 landed in Delhi, the cabin crew in charge filled in a detailed report of what happened and was counter-signed by the captain.
"According to the laid down procedure, after every flight, the cabin crew in charge fills out a report of what happened in the cabin during the flight. It is read and counter-signed by the captain," Captain S S Panesar, ex-pilot and former director of flight safety and training of erstwhile Indian Airline, said.
"If the cabin crew department and Air India did not read or react promptly to the report, how can they blame the captain now? De-rostering and giving the captain a show cause notice is absolutely unfair and ridiculous," Captain Panesar added.
He strongly believes that Air India is making the crew members and the captain a scapegoat just to avoid embarrassment and their own fault.
"Officers such as Director Inflight services & other higher-ups in the organisation who sat on the report or tried to broker a deal between the accused and the victim should be punished rather," he said.
The pilot fraternity is rallying behind the crew and the captain as they believe that if any action was needed against them, it would have been taken on November 27 or immediately after the incident.
They said that the de-rostering of the crew is a clear attempt by the airline to deflect and dissipate the culpability.
"The management was made aware of the incident by the crew via a written report on landing. The management could have asked for more details if the report was not clear. Instead, the airline tried to bury the issue by negotiating with passengers concerned," Captain Ajay Ahlawat, an air force veteran, said.
Presently engaged as Chief of Flight Safety by a non-schedule operator, Captain Ahlawat, said, "When the matter was reported in the media and sensing negative press, the airline has now tried to blame the crew instead of accepting it themselves. It's like a pendulum that swung from inaction to overreaction. The actions of the offending passenger were shameful and disgusting, deserving of strong punishment. However, blaming the pilots for the inaction of the airline is professional lynching," he said.
Agreeing with Captain Ahlawat, Captain Amit Singh, the founder of an NGO called Safety Matters Foundation, said, "The root cause is the prevailing poor safety culture in the airline. While the crew may be held responsible if the incident was not reported but the management is culpable if the reports".
He added: "The management has expressed their regret but still has not apologised. The expression of regret sidesteps the central issue of fault, the admission of which is, after all, what an aggrieved party is seeking".
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