Air India Express pilots calling commanders by first name may not be good idea

While First Officers may hesitate to be so bold, the PICs may feel their egos being hurt

Air India Express pilots calling commanders by first name may not be good idea
An Air India Express flight about to land. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons/Manojz Kumar

A more informal cockpit environment could improve coordination and help in cutting down the chances of aviation incidents and accidents. With this in mind, the Air India Express management has asked its pilots to address the pilots-in-command (PIC) “by the first name or simply as captain”. This has been done to improve crew resource management (CRM). 

However, in a culture that has built up over generations that puts a primacy on a formal occupational hierarchy and matching systems of address, an informal work setting may not be immediately accepted. While First Officers (FOs) may hesitate to be so bold, the PICs may feel their egos being hurt. In that case, the directive may do more harm than good. Also, when that informality is being imposed by a formal official order, acceptance and legitimacy not be easily granted. 

Captain VS Rajkumar, the airline's chief of operations, in a communication topmost on August 20, advised the ouster of 'sir' from the cockpit after an alleged lack of coordination between the cockpit crew was held to contribute to a tail strike and the aircraft landing gear impacting the perimeter wall of the airport during takeoff on October 12, 2018, The Times of India reported. The underbelly of the plane was damaged. The pilots, however, were able to steer the plane safely back to Trichy. 

Also read: 10 reasons Air India Express continues to flourish despite sick parent

According to the probe report by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board (AAIB), the incident occurred as a result of "delayed takeoff due to reduction of takeoff thrust N1 from 98% to 77% before reaching V1, the inability of both the crew members to monitor the thrust parameters and take timely corrective action", Rajkumar's communication pointed out. The probe report also mentioned the mechanical failure of the PIC seat backrest recliner during takeoff roll and the breakdown of crew coordination. 

The Air India Express communication said that while all causative factors leading to the tail strike was addressed by the AAIB report, the airline sought to specifically target the breakdown of CRM in the subject incident. According to aviation website Skybrary, CRM involves “the effective use of all available resources for flight crew personnel to assure a safe and efficient operation, reducing error, avoiding stress and increasing efficiency". 

The Air India Express directive acknowledged that given the culture of subservience to the authority matrix in the cockpit, it may take some time before the PIC is called as captain or by his/her first name.

Also read: Air India A321 tail strike offers valuable lessons on psychology of surprise 

Air India Express, the low-cost subsidiary of the national carrier Air India, is also up for sale along with its parent company. Minister of State for Civil Aviation General (Retd) VK Singh said in reply to a question in Lok Sabha on July 22 that financial bids for the national carrier are expected by September 15 this year. Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced in February that the government is confident of completing all planned public sector undertaking (PSU) disinvestments, including those of Air India and Pawan Hans by 2022.

The airline has had fortunes starkly different from that of its cash-strapped parent. It has also set a high standard of operational efficiency. According to the Air India Express website, the airline has a 7.1% share in the India-international market and a 16.4% share in the India-Gulf market. 

The airline first turned profitable in 2015-16 with a net gain figure of Rs 362 crore. It reported net profits of Rs 297 crore in 2016-17, Rs 262.05 crore in 2017-18 and Rs 169 crore in 2018-19. In FY20, the low-cost carrier (LCC) reported its highest-ever net profit of Rs 412.77 crore.

(Cover image courtesy Wikimedia Commons/Manojz Kumar)