Armed with a favourable order from the Delhi High Court and a backing from the civil aviation ministry, the Air India management on Wednesday sacked 26 more pilots after their agitation entered the second day.
The stir by Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) led to the cancellation of Air India flights to eight international destinations — New York, New Jersey, Jeddah, Frankfurt, Chicago, Toronto, Seoul and Beijing — and two on domestic routes. The airline, which had earlier terminated the services of 10 pilots and derecognised the union, fired 26 pilots who did not report to duty on Wednesday and requested all others to join back work after the high court order.
Air India has also prepared itself for the worst and is working on a contingency plan to operate Airbus planes on international routes.
“If the strike continues for another one/two days the services will be completely crippled, as the strength of executive pilots is limited. We are working on a plan to operate some international sector with the Airbus planes instead of Boeing,” said a senior Air India executive, who did not want to be identified. He also added that the airline has stopped taking bookings for long-haul international flights for the next four five days.
The 550-member IPG is opposed to allowing erstwhile IA pilots to operate Dreamliners. Also, they want their career progression and time-bound promotions to be the same as pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines, which operates an Airbus fleet.
The erstwhile AI and IA followed different policies on training and promotion. Erstwhile IA pilots got the commander’s grade in about six years; it took 10 years in erstwhile AI.
Earlier on Wednesday, the Delhi high court issued a notice to IPG and asked it to reply to a plea of the Air India management seeking court’s intervention and also a restraint order against the striking pilots. A PTI report said judge Reva Khetrapal also said allowing such a strike to continue would cause irreparable loss to the company and hugely inconvenience passengers travelling by the carrier.
Unfazed, the pilots have decided to continue with the strike. The IPG said it was awaiting a copy of the court order. “We will consult with our lawyers and then take a final decision,” said its president Jitendra Awhad, who is a legislator of the Nationalist Congress Party.
He claimed the airline management had initially accepted the IPG’s demands, but later went back on the promise. “A draft agreement was signed by the union and ED (Industrial Relations) and ED (Operations),” Awhad said. The draft was sent to AI chairman Rohit Nandan, “who refused to approve the draft”, he revealed, saying the executive pilots of Air India would also join the agitation.
The government maintained its tough stance today as well. “The revival of the national carrier is at stake,” according to Civil aviation Minister Ajit Singh. “The government is doing all to bring it into the black,” he told Business Standard. “We need to deal with the situation patiently and firmly. The pilots have done the wrong thing by going on strike. We will take action.”
The minister conceded that the erstwhile IA and AI operated with different set of rules, but said the government was working towards implementing the D M Dharmadhikari committee report, which he claimed had “solution for all the complications with every employee” of the airline. “We have collected the facts to start its implementation. It will happen gradually,” he added.
As for the talks to happen between the agitating pilots and him, Singh said the pilots would have to first call off their strike. “Nothing can proceed unless they do it,” he added.