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Air India cancels 221 flights on day 8 of pilots’ stir

New Delhi: As many as 221 Air India flights in the domestic sector were cancelled Wednesday, as the strike by nearly half of the carrier’s 1,600 pilots entered the eighth day, with operations restricted to the trunk routes between metros.

But the Air India management said some 100-odd flights of sister budget carrier Alliance Air had been deployed to ferry passengers as no reconciliation was in sight between the management and the striking pilots, co-opted from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.

“The decision to operate only four fights, that too on the metro routes, was taken after a new operations plan which came into effect today (Wednesday),” a senior official from the airline told IANS over phone from the carrier’s headquarters in Mumbai.

“But these four flights, along with those of Alliance Air, are sufficient today, since bookings had been closed five days ago. So there is no backlog. We will take a decision on when to reopen bookings later in the day,” the official said.

The Air India official said that if the strike persisted, losses during these eight days would mount to Rs.85 crore, adding the management was more than willing to restart its talks, and even reinstate the sacked pilots, if they call off their agitation.

But the pilots, earlier working for Indian Airlines, were unwilling to concede, unless there was immediate decision on pay parity with their counterparts in Air India along with payment of arrears for the past four years.

“We are not fools to first start a strike, then get terminated and then the management comes back saying you will be reinstated, but you should drop the idea of a strike,” said Capt. V.K. Bhalla, an executive pilot who is lending support to the strike.

“The main reason for the strike, to start with, had nothing to do with either our being reinstated, re-recognition of the pilots’ union, or for that matter the salary for April that we have earned but has been held,” he said.

“It is all about pay parity and arrears. It remains that.”

Tuesday had seen the Delhi High Court issue criminal contempt of court notices to nine office bearers of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) — the union that has called the strike — for ignoring a stay order on the agitation last Friday.

“All the nine should remain present in the court while the criminal contempt proceedings shall be carried out May 25,” said the two-member bench of Justice B.D Ahmed and Justice Veena Birbal.

The nine including the president and general secretary are: A.S. Bhinder, Rishab Kapoor, Ramesh Gangadharan, Rajesh Kuyeskar, Ritesh Mathankar, Nitin Mahengade, Anup Jain, Amitesh Ahuja and Sakeel Naqvi.

The management, meanwhile, sought public support for its actions, even questioning if the stir was justified.

“Majority of them (striking pilots) draw over Rs.3.88 lakh per month and up to Rs.7 lakh per month, besides other benefits, including free passages,” the state-run airline said in an advertisement released in some newspapers.

“Over 10,000 esteemed passengers (are) stranded daily. Over 40,000 inconvenienced so far,” said the airline, asking: “Should financially critical Air India, on government support, succumb to such blackmail?”

The airline has also decided not to pay the striking pilots during the duration of their stir and withdraw the free passage on the airline’s flights given to them and their families, sources in the carrier said.

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