It seems like another harrowing day for those travelling by Air India. At least four flights have been cancelled with passengers saying once again they have no information about the cancellations. Air India says it’s leasing planes to compensate, and entitling affected passengers to hotel accommodation. Civil Aviation minister Ajit Singh is slated to meet the Prime Minister to apprise him of the situation. “I am also hopeful that Air India will not move to ICU. I will take up the issue of the Air Turbine Fuel (ATF) costs, other costs and the problem faced by the passengers” he says.
Trouble for the national carrier has become bigger with the Air India management filing a contempt of court application in the Supreme Court against its pilots on strike. The Delhi High Court had on Wednesday said the Air India strike is illegal. But despite this, the pilots remained defiant. Around 250 pilots from Air India continued the strike.
“If the pilots don’t listen to the court, why would they listen to me?” Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh had asked yesterday.
A total of 46 pilots have been sacked in the last three days, including 10 on Thursday. The pilots say that the management has failed to give them the promotions that are due. They also say that it’s unacceptable for Indian Airlines pilots to be trained to fly the new Boeing Dreamliner, which is meant to join the national carrier’s fleet later this month.
In 2007, Air India was merged with Indian Airlines, the government-owned domestic carrier. Since then, pilots from the two airlines have clashed repeatedly over issues like parity in pay and seniority.
The strike called by pilots of Kingfisher Airlines too seems to have had an impact. Today again, pilots in Delhi have called in sick and at least 12 flights to and from the capital have been cancelled. Pilots claim they have not yet received their dues from January even though they were promised that they would get it by May 9. So when that did happen, they decided to protest and not report to work. However, last night the airline began paying pending salaries to their co-pilots and ground staff who claimed they hadn’t got their dues but pilots have still not got their salaries and arrears. Since Thursday morning, some pilots in Delhi have begun calling in sick. At least 17 Kingfisher flights to or from Delhi were cancelled yesterday.
The cash-strapped airline, owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has been struggling to stay afloat despite massive debt. In the last fiscal year, it declared losses of 1027 crores. The Aviation Minister made it clear today that since the airline is a private one, they will have to mobilise funds on their own.
Kingfisher pilots have been paid since January, say sources. Reuters reported this week that Mr Mallya wrote on May 5 to employees, stating that January salaries would be paid starting Wednesday this week. “It is my personal endeavour to not only clear the January salaries, but also clear a significant part of the February salaries by the end of this month itself,” Mr Mallya wrote, according to Reuters.