For taking delivery of the Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner' aircraft

Finally, the crisis-ridden Air India, which is still grappling with the two-week old pilots' strike, has put off a visit of Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to the United States to take delivery of the brand new long-range Boeing 787 ‘Dreamliner' aircraft.

The Minister, along with an entourage of officials and invited journalists, was to travel to Seattle and Charlston, U.S. from May 28 to 31. Journalists, who were invited to join the Minister on the trip to the U.S., were informed by the Civil Aviation Ministry officials on Tuesday that the visit was being postponed by two weeks. Air India has ordered 27 Dreamliners and the first of the lot was scheduled to be delivered at a ceremony in the U.S. this month-end. The postponement of the visit of Mr. Singh, along with officials and journalists, came four days after The Hindu published a news story, questioning the rationale, scale and timing of the visit when cash-starved Air India had already incurred a loss of Rs. 200 crore due to the agitation by a section of its pilots. International flights of the national carrier have been in total disarray and Air India is operating a curtailed flight schedule on some West-bound sectors.

The IPG pilots have been demanding that they alone should be retrained to fly the long-haul Boeing 787 jet, as allowing pilots from the erstwhile sister-carrier Indian Airlines would adversely affect their career prospects.

Battling deep financial crisis and losses of nearly Rs. 7,000 crore annually, Air India is hoping to survive on the government's bailout package of Rs. 30,000 crore which comes with strings attached. The government wants the national carrier to perform satisfactorily on a number of parameters.

Meanwhile, the pilots' strike and its impact on passengers evoked concern from MPs in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday. The Civil Aviation Minister said that the pilots had not heeded the government's appeals to withdraw their stir even after the promise that there would not be any victimisation.

“I committed in the House that no victimisation would be done...but pilots are not listening. That is where the situation stands today,” Mr. Singh told the House.

Maintaining that Air India's image had been “dented” by the strike, he said the stir had come during the peak season and at a time when its revenue had gone up to 35 per cent and on-time performance was improving.

Mr. Singh pointed out that the Delhi High Court had stuck down the strike as “illegal.” He regretted the fact that the pilots who reported sick were neither ill nor had they visited doctors.

He said that the Civil Aviation Ministry was ready to discuss all issues as the government had announced the huge bailout package. “This bailout is not without strings. They have to meet strict standards. If they meet these standards, we will release public money,” he said.

His statement came as members in the Rajya Sabha demanded an early end to the strike.

More In: National | News