AI's striking pilots hold firm on demands

Widespread misery for air travellers

AI's striking pilots hold firm on demands

The pilots’ strike continued even after the Delhi High Court held it illegal and ordered them to return to work, but not before it blamed the Air India management for failing to address their long-pending demands.

Justice Gita Mittal barred the pilots from resorting to any kind of demonstration, following an urgent hearing of the Air India management’s plea against the strike. Justice Mittal asked the striking pilots to resume work for “larger public interest.”

Reacting to the high court verdict, the striking Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) said its members would continue the agitation as they were yet to get a copy of the judgement. “We cannot work in this environment created by the management”, the ICPA leaders said.

Acting swiftly against the pilots, the Air India management dismissed from service six leaders of the ICPA, of which erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots are members, and derecognised the body. Two  other ICPA leaders, president Capt A S Bhinder and general secretary Capt Rishabh Kapur, were suspended.

Declaring as illegal the strike by about 660 pilots, the management derecognised the ICPA and sealed its offices in Delhi and Mumbai.

Taking advantage of the situation, private airlines led by low cost carriers jacked up their fares by up to 50 per cent on the Mumbai-Delhi sector. For instance, a Spice Jet Mumbai-Delhi ticket was selling at Rs 6,255 on Wednesday while the Bangalore flight fare was Rs 5,275, much above the normal range of Rs 3,000-4,000.

Addressing journalists in the evening, Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi sent out a tough message to the pilots, saying no one would be allowed to dictate terms to the government. He, however, said the ministry would work to sort out the issue. Air India has also decided to rope in 150 management pilots – executive pilots - to operate its flights.

The AI management said over 20 flights, including some international flights, had to be cancelled since midnight including those flying to Bangkok, Kathmandu etc.
In a relief to those flying Air India, the national carrier said it would not levy any cancellation or refund fee on passengers affected by the ongoing strike by a section of its pilots.

 “In the event of flight disruptions/cancellation/ combination/delay of over an hour, full refund will be given to passengers, irrespective of the fare rules,” the state-run airline said.

It also decided that no penalties will be levied on tickets refunded/re-validated/re-issued/re-booked on a subsequent flight, due to flight disruptions, cancellation or combination or over-flying/delay of over an hour.

Air India pilots went on strike after talks from April 26-27 midnight with the management and the Chief Labour Commissioner over pay parity between pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India failed.

While the management asked the striking pilots to give up their “irresponsible and unreasonable” stance and return to the negotiating table, the agitators said they were focusing on the “mismanagement” that had resulted in financial losses to the airline and demanded a CBI probe. Terming the strike by its pilots as “unfortunate and ill-advised”, Air India Chairman-and-Managing Director Arvind Jadhav said: “Now when such aggressive efforts are underway to resolve issues concerning every section of the employees, this abrupt action by the ICPA was uncalled for.”

Capt Kapur said that prior to the merger Air India and Indian Airlines had a loss Rs 455 crore and Rs 280 crore respectively, which rose to Rs 16,000 crore within three years. He wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, urging him to review the appointment of the “high-headed and dishonest management” to restore the airline’s glory.

“The government has all the machinery and tools to investigate all the shortcomings of this management and hold them accountable. We, the ICPA, now demand a CBI inquiry or any appropriate body to inquire into the scams of the airlines,” Capt Kapur said in his letter to the Prime Minister.

Bangalore flights not affected much
Three Air India flights from Bangalore, two linking the City to Hyderabad and another to Thiruvananthapuram, were cancelled on Wednesday. The two Delhi-bound flights were combined and about 10 flights operated till evening, with three more expected to take off. 

“The pilots abstained from reporting. However, all passengers were accommodated on private flights or rerouted. And, all reached their destinations,” an Air India spokesperson told Deccan Herald.  

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