In Japan, idled Dreamliner pilots lose pay, but want plane to be safe

Wed Feb 27, 2013 4:07pm EST
 
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By Yoko Kubota

TOKYO (Reuters) - Their smart uniforms are mothballed, their income has fallen and some are getting under their wives' feet at home.

The grounding of Boeing Co's global fleet of 787 Dreamliner passenger jets due to undiagnosed battery problems is taking its toll on the hundreds of pilots specially trained to fly the high-tech, fuel efficient plane.

In Japan, the 350 or so pilots at All Nippon Airways Co (ANA) and Japan Airlines Co Ltd (JAL), which operate around half the 50 Dreamliners in service, have been kicking their heels at home since the planes were idled in mid-January - an enforced rest period that is beginning to grate.

"For the first two weeks after the grounding, the 787 was in my dreams. It's the first time I haven't flown for this long," one ANA Dreamliner captain told Reuters. He asked not to be named as he was not authorized to talk to the media. "It's like I'm rehearsing for retirement. My family teases me, saying I'm unemployed."

Without planes to fly, the pilots - who have up to three months intensive training for the 787 - expect their monthly pay to fall by as much as 30 percent. They have mostly been assigned "blank" days - an industry term for pilots who are not on duty, staff at the airlines said. ANA has told its Dreamliner pilots they will undergo simulator refresher training next month, the pilot said.

Air safety investigators don't yet know what caused lithium-ion batteries to overheat on two 787s last month. ANA has said it plans not to use the plane until the end of May, while JAL has for now said it won't fly the Dreamliner until March 30.

INCOME DENT

Dreamliner pilots at Japan's two biggest airlines are not currently allowed to fly other aircraft, even though they have previously flown other planes including Boeing 777s, said staff at ANA and JAL - a sidelining that is hitting their wallets.   Continued...

 
Four All Nippon Airways' (ANA) Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner planes (top) are seen behind another ANA plane at Haneda airport in Tokyo January 29, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai