The Gulf carriers were offering over "40 per cent more money" than Air India paid, leading the pilots to make a beeline to serve them, sources claimed.
"Many commanders on Boeing 777s have already quit Air India and moved to airlines like Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates in the last few months. As many as 35 more commanders are all set to take up assignments with these airlines in the next 2-3 months," sources told PTI here.
Such a drain could lead to "a substantial shortfall of commanders," they said.
Air India currently has around 115 commanders to operate the Boeing 777 fleet, comprising 15 B777-300 (Extended Range) and eight B777-200 (long-range).
Besides, it also has around 40 executive pilots, who had come to the airline's rescue during the nearly-two month long agitation by a section of its pilots in May.
At the same time, of the 13 sacked pilots who are yet to be reinstated, five are B777 commanders.
Last Sunday, Air India Mumbai-Riyadh flight was delayed by 20 hours, leading to chaos at the city airport.
The airline had attributed this inordinate delay to flight crew shortage.
"B777 operations require a set of 7-8 pilots per aircraft and for ultra-long haul it goes up to 10 per aircraft. Then the carrier also need to keep around 10 per cent of its total pilots strength in the reserve pool to make do for the pilots on medical or other leaves," the sources said.
By these standards, the airline requires at least 50-odd pilots.
"With a nearly 40 per cent hike in their pay-packages, being offered by these airlines compared to Air India, a switch-over is the best proposition for them," they said.
Carriers like Qatar and Etihad were offering around Rs 7.50-8.30 lakh per month to these pilots as compared to Rs 4-6 lakh per month being paid by Air India to its commanders, they said.
Moreover, free education of three children up to 21 years, free medical and housing are the added attraction for these pilots to join Gulf carriers, sources claimed.