Air India stir enters 7th day, Govt calls pilot strike meaningless

Dubbing their seven-day-old stir “meaningless” after a court order, Government refused to hold talks with the agitating pilots till they resumed work, as harried passengers got no respite with 14 international flights being cancelled.

“As the pilots are not ready to call-off their strike and join work, we have cancelled 14 international flights from Delhi and Mumbai,” an Air India official said.Hundreds of passengers were stranded following the flight cancellations. The pilots, who are on strike since Tuesday, are not ready to relent from their stand until their demands are met. They have also refused to accept Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh’s call to come to the negotiating table after withdrawing their strike.

Talking tough, Singh said,” Whatever issues they have raised for this strike have already been resolved or not possible to do anything. By the court order, therefore, this strike is meaningless now.”

The Delhi High Court had last week called the stir by a section of pilots as illegal.

“Why would anybody talk to everybody…There is no point. This is not negotiable. They struck on certain issues, those issues are not there anymore. Let them withdraw(their strike), we will then review what should be done then,” he added.

The Indian Pilots Guild, spearheading the pilots’ stir, submitted some documents to the Civil Aviation Ministry on Monday to prove its claims on the career progression issue, accusing the management of not giving a ‘clear picture” to the government on their issues.

“Some of our office bearers today met ministry officials and submitted documents regarding our claim,” IPG sources told a news agency.

A few IPG leaders had also gone to the residence of Ajit Singh and submitted the same set of papers. Singh was in Parliament at that time.

IPG has demanded it be allowed to place its issues to the government “without the interference of the Air India management.”

When asked whether there were any back-channel parleys with the government to break the deadlock, the sources said no such talks were held.

“We have neither had direct nor indirect talks with the government so far. Also, there is no meeting scheduled with the Minister as of now,” IPG sources said.

The Air India Board which met in New Delhi on Monday reviewed the implementation of the Turnaround Plan, but expressed serious concern at the mounting losses due to the strike, airline officials said.

Independent Directors on the Board are understood to have supported the management for taking stern action against agitating pilots.

The week-long strike by the pilots has led to a loss of over Rs 150 crore for Air India, official said.

The Board also decided to appoint a consultant for monetisation of the airline’s assets. The strike has led to problems in release of funds by the bankers of Air India, official sources said.

They said complete closure of international operations was not being ruled out due to the strike as these services were responsible for about 48 per cent of the operational losses.

he national carrier has already firmed up a contingency plan that would see curtailment of daily international operations by more than half. It plans to operate seven daily West-bound flights instead of 16 which were being run earlier and they would operate to North America with one stop in Frankfurt, Paris or even London.

The airline operates 16 flights a day with large, wide- body aircraft used to fly to the US, Europe, the Far East, and South-East Asia all sectors affected by the agitation by a section of pilots.

Now these seven flights would be operated on a firm basis by executive pilots. The airline also plans to wet lease some aircraft so that it can operate 4-5 more daily international flights, as part of the contingency plan.