Vistara, co-owned by Tata Group and Singapore Airlines Ltd., addressed pilots’ concerns over pay cuts and fatigue, people familiar with the matter said, after an en masse sick leave by pilots and crew shortage forced the Indian carrier to cancel more than a hundred flights.

Chief Executive Officer Vinod Kannan assuaged pilots’ worries about the new salary structure on Wednesday in a virtual meeting, according to people familiar who asked not to be identified because it was a closed-door discussion. Kannan told them there will be opportunities to earn more after the airline is merged with Air India Ltd., one of the people said.

The manpower shortage led to 106 Vistara flights being canceled since Monday, according to data from FlightAware, an aircraft tracking and data company. Vistara typically operates more than 300 flights a day. Pilots are upset with Vistara for aligning its salary structure with Air India Ltd. — a move that will reduce their guaranteed pay to 40 flying hours from 70 hours a month, Bloomberg News reported Tuesday.

Kannan said those who did report to work faced tightly planned roasters and many fatigued pilots exhausted their flying hours limit during flight delays, the people said. This further snowballed the disruptions in Vistara’s flight schedule. 

Kannan assured the pilots that the carrier will improve its roster to give adequate rest time and if required, scale back its network to ensure buffer in case of delays, the people said. 

Vistara’s operations were expected to turn normal by the weekend, according to a local news report.

Rocky Road

The tussle between Vistara’s management and pilots spotlights the multiple challenges Tata Group will have to navigate to close its planned merger with Air India by the end of 2024. The coffee-to-cars conglomerate bought the unprofitable flag-carrier, Air India, from the Indian government in 2022 to bolster its aviation empire but the road since has been rocky. 

Vistara has seen 15 Airbus SE A320 pilots and six trained on Boeing Co. 787 aircraft quitting following the pay cut, said Sanjay Lazar, aviation expert at Avialaz Consultants. Some had offers from rival carriers, he said.

The airline is deploying larger aircraft, such as 787 Dreamliner and A321neo, on some domestic routes to combine flights, Vistara said in a statement Tuesday adding that this would help tide over the “significant” flight cancellations and delays of the past few days.

Singapore Airlines will hold a 25.1% stake in the enlarged airline after an investment of $250 million. Vistara has a fleet of 67 aircraft, mainly from the A320 family, as well as six 787 Dreamliner jets.

Vistara will need to break the impasse soon or risk losing pilots given a massive global demand for their services, Lazar said.

“With travel surging post Covid, the requirement has skyrocketed,” he said. “An Indian pilot is as skilled as an English or an American pilot. And Indian pilots can be hired at half the price.”