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Updated: May 12, 2012 01:55 IST

As pilots continue stir, Air India draws up contingency plan

Special Correspondent
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Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh
The Hindu Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh

Crisis-hit flag carrier Air India, battling an agitation by a section of its pilots for the past four days, on Friday put in place a contingency plan that will take effect from Monday, allowing the airline to operate a curtailed schedule on some busy international sectors.

Air India's Commercial Director D. Brara said the airline was also looking at the possibility of wet leasing aircraft to operate four or five international flights. He said that from Monday the airline would be able to operate seven out of 16 daily flights to the West.

Assuring travellers of Air India's efforts to adhere to a curtailed schedule that would cater to long-haul flights to the U.S. with a stopover in Europe, Mr. Brara said non-stop flights to Chicago and New York would have a stop either in Frankfurt, Paris or London. The airline has stopped fresh booking on international sectors till May 15.

As the strike by pilots, owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), has thrown international operations of the ailing Air India in disarray, the airline management expressed the hope that agitating pilots would respond to the offer of talks by the government and return to work.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also briefed on the situation arising out of the agitation of the pilots by Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh, as the stir led to the cancellation of nearly a dozen international flights, aggravating the suffering and misery of hundreds of passengers in the peak holiday season, and causing huge losses to the cash-strapped public sector carrier.

No ESMA: Minister

Mr. Singh, while appealing to the striking pilots to end their stir, and seeking their cooperation, ruled out imposing the provisions of the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) on them.

Asking the Air India management to “sort out” the problems with the striking pilots, the Supreme Court refused to entertain its plea for initiating contempt proceedings against the IPG, for allegedly hindering implementation of its order on training of pilots for the Boeing Dreamliner aircraft.

Mr. Singh said all Unions had to put aside their “personal interests.” He reiterated: “If they want to talk, they should come to work, and all issues can be discussed... The High Court has declared their strike illegal. We are willing to discuss with any union, but they should call off the strike, especially when it is vacation time. If Air India doesn't stay afloat, all their jobs will be at stake.”

On its part, the IPG ruled out returning to work, unless the management reinstates the pilots whose services have been terminated, and their Union is recognised. “The ball is in the management's court,” IPG spokesperson Tauseef Mukadam said.

Air India is suffering a loss of Rs. 10 crore to Rs. 12 crore daily due to the agitation, but aviation analysts have said the long-term impact on the national carrier will be “disastrous” at a time when the government has cleared a Rs. 30,000-crore bailout package for the airline.

Meanwhile, a section of pilots of private carrier Kingfisher on Friday called off their two-day agitation due to non-payment of salaries after some persuasion by the carrier's boss Vijay Mallya, who vowed to deal with the situation “firmly.”

The pilots decided to return to work following a meeting with the airline management in the Capital, after flights were cancelled for the second day on Friday. The airline was forced to cancel 12 flights from Delhi and Mumbai, as approximately 70-odd pilots from north India did not report for duty.

The management has assured the employees of remitting the January salaries by May 15, and a part-payment of the February dues will follow soon, Kingfisher sources said. Kingfisher has been facing financial troubles for almost a year. It suffered a loss of approximately Rs. 1,027 crore in 2010-11, and has a debt of Rs. 7,057.08 crore.

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