AI pilots strike enters 5th day, flights badly hit
Air India’s domestic operations came to a virtual halt on the fifth day of the pilots strike on Sunday with no solution in sight to break the stalemate and all eyes were now on the Delhi High Court which will take up criminal proceedings against the agitators on Monday.
An airline spokesman said nearly 90 percent of the domestic operations were hit. Only 40 of the 320 daily flights were operated. The national carrier said it has planned the same curtailed service for the next week.
AI operated only 40 domestic flights out of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Chennai and other airports.
Agitating pilots said they have not received any invitation for talks from the Air India management, which on the other hand is awaiting the High Court’s decision on the contempt proceedings against three Indian Commercial Pilot Association (ICPA) leaders.
Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav sent an SMS to all airline employees asking them to persuade the pilots to return to work and the negotiating table, saying the issues they were raising “occured many years ago, for which the current administration cannot be held responsible.”
“Risking our airline’s survival at this time is criminal. We all condemn corruption in public life, and culprits must be punished”, Jadhav said, adding “all actions spoken of (by the pilots) are unforgiveable”.
An airline spokesperson said the strike disrupted 90 percent of the domestic operations, though flights operated by its subsidiaries Alliance Air and Air India Express on the regional and international sectors, including the Gulf, operated normally.
The global operations also included flights to and from the US, UK, Europe, Southeast Asia (Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong), China and the Gulf, he said, adding 42 regional flights were also operated.
The curtailed operations schedule till next Friday has been finalised and put on the airline website and the airline has stopped all domestic bookings till Tuesday.
The Delhi High Court last week came down heavily on striking pilots for defying its order to resume work.
This followed Air India management moving the court seeking contempt proceedings against the pilots.
Observing that the strike by pilots was an act that was “wilful, brazen and smacks of sheer arrogance”, the court had said that “prima facie the conduct of these pilots would be covered within the definition of criminal conduct within the meaning of the expression in Section 2(c) of the Contempt of Courts Act”.
Regarding the executive pilots reporting sick and not joining duty, it said “this conduct of mass sick report smacks of collusion and even contrived sickness with the intent to create a defence for their not joining duty. The same renders such persons liable for initiation of appropriate proceedings against them for criminal contempt”.
Meanwhile, the Air India management on Sunday put out an advertisement in newspapers questioning the justification of strike by the pilots when majority of them were drawing Rs 3.88 lakh to Rs 7 lakh salary per month.
The management said that it had held 13 meetings, including the conciliation meetings, with the pilots since 23rd February when the ICPA served the strike notice.
Also, it claimed that no issues were pending as following meeting with the ICPA representatives, the Civil Aviation Minister formed Justice Dharmadhikari committee to look into the pay parity issue while the management has issued orders for restoration of travel destination and proper allocation of flying hours.
The pilots, on the other hand, claimed that the management has failed to fulfil the memorandum of settlement of November 2009 regarding implementation of parity of wages and allowances and other issues.
They also claimed that on an average, the Commander and the co-pilot of the erstwhile Indian Airlines and those associated with ICPA, were flying just 40 to 50 hours a month only against an industry average of over 70 hours.
Several unions, including those representing air traffic controllers, flight dispatchers, the IPG and Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots of Jet Airways, have extended their support to the agitating pilots.
About 800 pilots, belonging to the erstwhile Indian Airlines, have gone on strike. Of the total number of 1,200 pilots, 400 belong to the Indian Pilots Guild of the erstwhile Air India, mostly operating international flights.
The ICPA has been demanding pay parity with their Air India colleagues, better working conditions and demanding withdrawal of sack orders against their leaders.
Since the strike began on Tuesday, the AI management has sacked nine pilots including ICPA president A S Bhinder and general secretary Rishabh Kapur besides suspending six others.