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Air India Delhi-bound passengers stranded in Doha since Monday evening

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MUMBAI: A total of 150 Air India passengers bound for Jaipur and Delhi are stranded in Doha airport since Monday evening after the aircraft met with a technical problem and the departure was delayed and by the time the aircraft was ready for the flight, the pilots’ limitation on flight duty time had kicked in.
Air India flight AI-1974 operating the Doha-Jaipur-Delhi route was scheduled to depart Doha at 8.45 pm.
An Air India spokesperson said that the flight was delayed due to technical reason. “By the time, the aircraft was cleared for take off at 11.40pm, the cockpit crew had come under FDTL (Flight Time and Duty Limitation-norms that lay down the work and rest timings for pilots) and could not operate,” said the Air India spokesperson, adding that there are 150 passengers in the flight.
“The transit hotel inside the airport was full so accommodation could not be arranged for passengers and crew at the airport. As per Air Bubble arrangement, crew is not permitted to go outside the airport. Passengers were served dinner and special permission was sought from local authorities to accommodate them in hotel outside the airport. However, passengers opted to stay at the airport in a separate enclosure. Air India senior officials at Doha are in constant touch with the passengers and crew and looking after them,” said the Air India spokesperson.
“Passengers were served dinner last night and have been served breakfast. Lunch has also been arranged for them. Fresh crew will be flown in to operate the aircraft back along with the passengers and crew held up there at the earliest,” the spokesperson added.
The passengers seem to have been caught in the tussle between pilots and airline management.
An Air India top official said that the pilots FDTL would have been extended by about 20 minutes had they operated the flight around 11.40pm when the A320 aircraft was ready after the technical problem was fixed. “The extension in their flight duty time was well within the permissible limit. They could have operated the flight. It’s not just the pilots, all of us have been hit due to the pandemic,” the official said.
An Air India senior pilot said that following a decision by the airline unions last year, pilots have stopped extending their FDTLs in protest against the long-pending issues involving salary cuts and other matters. A joint directive issued by both Air India pilots’ body, Indian Pilots’ Guild and Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association on December 26 last year said, “The hostile work environment prevailing in the company for the last few months has significantly increased the mental pressure on pilots. Active mitigation is now unavoidable to keep flight operations safe. You are hereby directed not to give any extension on `Flight Time’, `Flight Duty Time’ or landing till further notice.” Another senior pilot said that flying conditions during the pandemic have been particularly stressful during the Covid second wave. “It’s not just about the increased infectivity and increased risk of contracting the virus. We also find ourselves at the receiving end when new restrictions imposed by countries aren’t followed. Like for instance, on April 29, after landing in Dubai, our pilots were made to wait for four hours by the Dubai immigration as Air India hadn’t conducted RT-PCR tests for the pilots even though Dubai had made a negative PCR report mandatory for all people coming from India. The pilots were allowed to check into the airport hotel for their rest only after the long, uncertain wait,” he said.

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