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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 December 2005, 11:19 GMT
Shed weight or jobs, crews told
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Delhi

Air India
Air India is trying to improve its image
India's state-owned airline Air India has threatened to ground its overweight cabin crew unless they shed their excess pounds over the next two months.

Some 10% of its 1,600-strong cabin crew are estimated to be overweight or suffering from obesity.

S Venkat, Air India's general manager public relations, told the BBC that the airline would strictly implement the directive.

"We have a tolerance limit that cannot be exceeded," he said.

Airline officials say the move is to try and improve the airline's poor image in the face of increased competition.

Imagine if crew members can't fasten their seat belts, how can they fly?
G Prasad Rao
Air India spokesman

Air India has an excellent safety record. However it is has a reputation for dowdy looking aircraft, lengthy delays and sloppy service.

But a recent boom in Indian aviation has meant that the airline faces stiff competition from a host of newly launched private airlines within India, and increased services by international airlines.

Glamour of flying

Indian air travel has undergone a revolution in recent years with the new airlines offering cheaper fares combined with top-level service from glamorous, young crew members.

Kingfisher flight attendants with Vijay Mallya
Air India is trying to meet the threat from rival airlines

It is estimated that the Indian aviation market will grow to some 45 million passengers by 2010 from an existing 14 million passengers.

To meet the increasing demand, Air India announced this year that it would buy 68 aircraft from US aircraft manufacturer Boeing over the next 10 years.

"We are expanding and we need more crew," said Mr Venkat.

But they would have to conform with the weight restrictions which have been drawn up by the airline's insurance company.

Crew happy

The move has been welcomed by the cabin crew.

"We welcome the decision, as it is for our own benefit," Raju Joshi of the Air India Cabin Crew Association is quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times newspaper.

Under Indian law, female crew members can fly up to the age of 50 while males are allowed to fly till they are 58.

Reports say many of the crew members found overweight tended to be older staff.

Airline officials now say the sight of portly flight attendants lumbering up and down the aisles will rapidly fade away.

"Imagine if crew members can't fasten their seat belts, how can they fly?" an Air India spokesman, G Prasad Rao, is quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

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