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AI cancels 130 flights as pilots’ stir enters fourth day

New Delhi: Close to 130 flights were grounded on Saturday as nearly half of Air India’s 1,600 pilots continued their stir for the fourth day, despite facing a six-month jail for contempt of court and talks of a partial lockout of the flag carrier.

The strike has caused a net loss of Rs 26 crore to the airline, already facing one of its worst financial crises with losses mounting to nearly $3 billion since 2007 when Indian Airlines was merged with Air India under a new entity — National Aviation Company of India Limited.

“Nobody can dictate terms to the government, especially a few pilots. They are one of the highest paid people in this country,” said civil aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, who has totally backed the airline management after briefing the federal cabinet.

According to an airline official, the management is also considering an extension in the suspension of further bookings beyond the originally planned Sunday. “There are various options being considered. But certainly the pilots will not dictate terms.”

On its part, the Delhi high court on Friday initiated contempt proceedings against the members of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union behind the strike and whose members were on the payroll of erstwhile Indian Airlines.

Justice Gita Mittal initiated sou motto criminal contempt of court proceedings against the union after its members refused to return to work despite the her earlier order, restraining them from going ahead with the strike or holding further demonstrations.

What has irked the stranded passengers, numbering thousands across the country, even more was the steep 50-75 percent hike in fares charged by private airlines.

In the Delhi-Mumbai sector, for example, some passengers said the base fare that goes up to Rs 2,400-Rs 3,000 for last-minute bookings, had been jacked up to as much as Rs 7,500 by some carriers, resulting in a one-way cost of Rs 11,500, including various levies.

“Some carriers are charging even more,” said Pallavi Garg, a teacher, who was looking at last-minute offers in some travel sites to go to Mumbai from the capital. The minimum fare, she found, was Rs 6,198 and the maximum touched Rs 27,601 in Kingfisher and Jet.

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