A section of Air India’s executive pilots, who had been on strike in the past four days, called off their agitation on Wednesday.
The move comes a day after the Union government promised to keep the decision to slash their Productivity Linked Incentive (PLI) and allowances in abeyance. The agitating pilots were also given a stern warning by the management to resume their duties or face action. “The strike has been called off in view of the assurance given by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel that status quo will continue on the issues raised by us,” Capt. V.K. Bhalla, representative of the protesting executive pilots, told reporters here.
“We are thankful and happy that the pilots have called off their agitation,” Mr. Patel told journalists. “Air India CMD [Arvind Jadhav] will shortly form a committee, including representatives of the Ministry and executive pilots, to decide on the issue of the cutting of incentives. It may also discuss the airline’s turnaround plan.”
Air India’s Executive Director Jitendra Bhargava said in Mumbai that normal operations of the carrier would be restored by Wednesday night on international flights and by Thursday morning on the domestic sectors. About 200 pilots had reported sick to protest against the airline’s September 24 decision to cut their PLI by up to 50 per cent.
The agitation led to the cancellation of 240 flights over the past four days and an estimated loss of about Rs. 100 crore to the cash-strapped airline.
Mr. Patel said the Ministry stood by the management’s September 27 order, which modified the earlier order of September 24 that proposed a cut in the PLI of executive pilots and announced formation of the committee.
The government was extending its “fullest support” to Air India by deciding to infuse equity and converting high cost debt to low-cost debt. “But government support comes with riders. These are difficult times for airlines, not only in India, but all over the world.” The government would like to see the management and all employees sit together and exchange views on the problems facing the airline. Salaries and productivity-linked incentives for July were disbursed to the pilots and those for August would be paid soon, Mr. Patel said. Maintaining that the government’s desire was to ensure improvement of Air India’s financial health, Mr. Patel said he had briefed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee on the proposals to support the airline.