Pilots hijack Air India again

AI hits back: 13 flights cancelled,10 pilots sacked,offices of union sealed.

Written by ENS Economic Bureau | New Delhi | Published: May 8, 2012 12:03:53 am

With the government on its side,the Air India management took the pilots’ union head on today by derecognising the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG),sacking 10 pilots and sending medical teams to those who struck work by suddenly reporting sick. The guild represents some 250 pilots of erstwhile Air India (prior to its merger with Indian Airlines).

While talks were still on,pilots started reporting sick suddenly and without notice on Monday evening forcing the airline to cancel four flights last night. Terming the strike as “illegal”,Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh warned the pilots that action would be taken as per Air India management rules and regulations. By Tuesday evening,almost 200 pilots had joined the strike with about 13 flights being cancelled.

“In the midst of talks with Air India management,they (pilots) started taking sick leave. We support Air India management. Passengers are being inconvenienced. Pilots should act more responsibly,’’ Singh told reporters.

The four flights that had to be cancelled Monday night were Mumbai-Newark,Mumbai-Delhi-Chicago,Delhi-Toronto and Delhi-Hong Kong-Seoul. A senior Air India executive said that the airline had managed to stave off any flight cancellations until Tuesday afternoon. These passengers were being accommodated on other flights.

Uncertainty,however,loomed around flights scheduled Tuesday evening. Air India,for which the government recently approved a Rs 30,000-crore restructuring package,operates 50 international flights and 400 domestic flights a day. The striking pilots’ key demands: exclusive rights to fly all long-haul routes,including those on which the new Boeing 787 Dreamliners are to be deployed; and first class travel when on duty.

Air India executives said that these two demands were “unreasonable”,particularly at a time when the merged entity was bleeding and had to knock at the government’s door for a bailout. “My appeal to them is to show utmost humility in serving the passengers. For the management to talk to pilots,they must first offer unconditional withdrawal of disruption,” said Rohit Nandan,Chairman and Managing Director,Air India.

The Air India management had scheduled the training of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots on Dreamliners after a Supreme Court order on April 23,2012 stayed an earlier ruling by the Bombay High Court favouring IPG. The IPG had filed a writ petition in October 2011 before the High Court arguing that pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines should not be allowed to train on Dreamliners pending a final decision on their own seniority and career progression.

The IPG has a strength of about 250 pilots while the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA),the union representing pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines,has over 1,200 members of a total of 1,600 pilots. The remaining are mostly executive pilots.

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