M A I N   N E W S

AI cancellations continue, fliers fret
As govt scurries for solution, questions raised as to who gains from airline’s loss
Vibha Sharma/TNS

Emergency landing by AI plane at Bucharest

  • A Chicago-bound AI flight with at least 206 passengers and crew on board made an emergency landing in the Romanian capital of Bucharest on Saturday after the cargo door warning went off
  • The flight (AI 121D/127) to Chicago via Frankfurt had taken off from Frankfurt for Chicago
  • Soon after landing, the Boeing-777 was subjected to checks but nothing was found wrong
  • All passengers and crew are safe. The plane has been cleared for take-off


New Delhi, May 12
Fliers were left fretting as cancellations continued on Day 5 of the Air India pilots’ stir today. On the other hand, an AI workers union and industry chambers, ASSOCHAM, raised serious questions about the timing of the strike and “gainers” from frequent attempts by airline staff to halt the flight of the beleaguered national carrier.

With the government and pilots affiliated to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) waiting for the other side to make the first move, the impasse saw cash-strapped Air India cancelling around 16 international flights originating from Delhi and Mumbai today.

Agitating pilots said they were willing to hold unconditional talks with the government to end the impasse but the management was not keen to listen to their demands. “We have written to them (management) several times in the past, letting them know of our demands. We are very willing to hold talks, discussions with the government, with the management. We also want to save Air India,” IPG president Jitendra Awhad said.

Awhad, who is also an NCP MLA, added: “We are saddened (by) the fact that the government and the management can hold talks and make deals with the agitators from the other union when they went on strike three months ago, but can’t do the same with us”.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, however, asked striking pilots to apologise to passengers, start flying and then come to the government for talks. He also reached out to predecessors Sharad Yadav, Rajiv Pratap Rudy and Shahnawaz Hussain to discuss ways out of the impasse. Indicating support to the government, Rudy maintained that “the argument given by the erstwhile Air India pilots is bizarre. No government will support them”.

The management, meanwhile, said it was making all efforts to operate a skeletal schedule to minimise inconvenience to passengers who had been endorsed to other airlines as far as possible. It was mulling taking some aircraft on wet lease and was also in touch with some retired pilots besides rationalising flights.

However, even as some AI executive pilots sought Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s intervention to end the impasse, claiming that demands of pilots were “genuine and just”, terming management’s some policies “unfair”, connections are now being made between the peak tourist season and troubles that often come to plague the bleeding Maharaja during the month of May. Speculations are also rife over Awhad’s political linkages.

Wondering whether these agitations were “organised” to favour other airlines, the Air Corporations Employees Union of Air India said other carriers ended up as visible gainers every time AI operations screech to a halt. According to ACEU’s Arun Kumar Malhotra, it cannot be a coincidence that when summer tourists rush peaks up and bookings soar, Air India operations encounter turbulence.

“It happened in May 2010, just after the Mangalore crash when the two-day agitation cost AI Rs100 crore. Same thing happened in May 2011, when pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines demanded flying allowance parity with erstwhile Air India colleagues. The 10-day strike resulted in Rs 350-crore loss to the airline. Now this tourist season, it is the erstwhile Air India pilots who have decided to strike work to retain exclusive rights on long-haul international routes. The five-day strike has already cost the airline Rs 190 crore,” he claims.

Malhotra says every time a flight is cancelled passengers have to be booked on other airlines at full cost or shifted to hotels. For the number of cancellations that it suffered till date, amounts that the cash-starved national carrier must have transferred to rival airlines’ accounts would be mind boggling.

Supporting the stern action against the striking pilots, ASSOCHAM also questioned the “practice” for the unions of Air India to declare frequent strikes resulting heavy losses to the already bleeding national carrier. The chamber said the move provides opportunity to other airlines to hike tariffs manifold, thereby causing harassment to passengers.

However, those shoring up support for their IPG colleagues allege that ICPA pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines were being given undue advantage by the management, a matter that needs to be investigated.

Even though ICPA pilots have offered to help out, IPG supporters say the management is overlooking the fact that to replace the 70-odd sacked senior pilots will cost AI crores and take at least one year’s time during which the airline would have suffered irreparable loss. “AI pilots should be called and then only you can find the rightful solution,” they say.

About 200 pilots owing allegiance to the IPG are on strike since Tuesday. So far 71 pilots have been sacked. AI has also written to the DGCA, asking it to cancel the licences of 11 office-bearers of the IPG whose services have been terminated.
(With inputs from Shiv Kumar)





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