Striking Air India pilots ground fliers for second day


New Delhi/Mumbai : Some 600 Air India pilots continued with their strike for the second day Thursday, despite a court’s stay order, leaving passengers fuming due to cancellation of another 60 flights as conciliatory talks with the management failed.

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As per information made available from airports across the country, bulk of the flights that were cancelled Thursday were mainly scheduled out of the capital and Mumbai. Some 50 flights were either cancelled or re-scheduled the previous day.

Thursday also saw the cancellation of some international flights, including those from the capital to Kathmandu, Kabul and Dubai. Chaotic scenes were witnessed, particularly at the terminals in Delhi and Mumbai, as passengers frantically sought alternatives.

Members of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), once on the rolls of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, struck work midnight Tuesday demanding parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other issues related to work conditions.

They also want the airline to reinstate the six pilots who were sacked Wednesday, apart from two others who were suspended and want the union to be recognised again. They also want the chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav ousted.

Overall, the carrier has 1,600 pilots on its rolls.

The Delhi High Court that had slammed the Air India management Wednesday for not looking into the issues of pilots for over two decades, while asking the striking pilots to get back to work, took a serious view of the defiance of its stay order.

“Think properly about what is going on,” Justice Gita Mittal said, pulling up the pilots after the Air India moved a contempt petition against the union. “What is your defence with regard to non-compliance of yesterday’s order to call off the strike?”

Justice Mittal also issued contempt notices to the office bearers of the union. “You are bound to follow the court’s order,” the judge said, asking the union to submit a list of their members who went on strike, along with an annexure of demands.

The airline management was asked by the court to de-seal the offices of the union.

Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi said he has been informed that the second round of conciliatory proceedings initiated by the Chief Labour Commissioner N.K. Prasad had also failed, as the pilots were unrelenting. But the pilots said the management was adamant.

The minister also said the 1,600 pilots of Air India get a total pay of about Rs.800 crore annually — an amount that is equal to the annual emoluments of the remaining 28,000 employees of the airline.

But fliers had no respite as 20 percent of Air India’s 320 daily flights were cancelled.

“I can understand the management’s dilemma. But why should I be informed just the last moment that my flight is cancelled. I could have made some alternative arrangements,” Sandeep Goyal, a passenger bound for Mumbai, said in the capital.

“Now the private carriers are taking advantage of the situation. A ticket that should cost around Rs.6,600 at the last moment, is now being sold for Rs.8,800. I had booked days in advance. Even with full refund, my loss is much more,” Goyal told IANS.

As aviation minister appealed again, asking pilots to end the strike and come to the negotiating table, he also asked them cooperate with the Justice C.S. Dharamadhikari Committee that is examining all employee issues. This panel had started its work Monday.

The airline also made arrangements to lessen the impact of the strike. “We have decided to rope in 150 management pilots,” an Air India spokesperson said, referring to senior executive pilots now also tasked with administrative duties.

But the striking staff members said some of these pilots had reported sick Thursday.

The railway ministry, meanwhile said, it would run special trains to clear the rush of passengers following the strike by Air India pilots.

Northern Railway has planned two pairs of special trains — New Delhi to Kolkata and New Delhi to Mumbai — on April 28 while a pair has been planned from Mumbai to Hyderabad by Central Railway on April 29. More would be deployed depending at the situation.