New Delhi/Mumbai, May 12 (IANS) The Air India pilots continued their agitation for the fifth consecutive day Saturday, forcing the management to cancel 14 flights and re-scheduling many others, even as the protesting aviators also approached Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his intervention.
The carrier’s low-cost subsidiary, Air India Express, also cancelled six flights.
‘Fourteen flights have been cancelled and some may be rescheduled on domestic routes. We are monitoring the situation on an hourly basis and informing the passengers in advance,’ a senior Air India official told IANS.
‘We have plans to bring in executive and reserve pilots to operate the flights. We also have plans to wet lease at least four-five aircraft to operate on the affected routes,’ the official said.
The airline has stopped bookings on some of its ultra long-haul routes till May 15, effectively cancelling more than 15 flights per day on major sectors like the US, Europe, and some other destinations like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Meanwhile, the agitating pilots have reached out to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, seeking his intervention on demands which are deemed by senior members of the protesting aviator community as ‘genuine.’
The pilots had said they were open to talks. But the government did not accept the offer, saying there would be no negotiations till the pilots returned to work.
The development comes even as the airline said it is working on a contingency plan to salvage its international operations.
‘We are working on a plan. This involves operating a bare minimum number of flights on the international sector. This plan may come into effect from early next week,’ the official said.
Air India also had grounded the bulk of its Boeing-777 fleet. The airline has 17 Boeing-777 aircraft.
The airline is losing an estimated Rs.10 crore per day due to the agitation. Maintaining the grounded aircraft would further add to its expenditure.
The airline has sacked 71 pilots in five days since the agitation began Tuesday and derecognised their union – the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG). It has also asked aviation regulator Directorate General Of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to cancel the pilots’ flying licenses.
The standoff between the Air India management and the striking pilots had its impact on both houses of parliament Thursday, with members saying the agitation was destroying the national airline and sending wrong signals to the outside world.
The trouble started for the airline Tuesday when pilots belonging to IPG took mass sick leave protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner conversion training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The airline has also moved petitions in the Supreme Court and the Delhi High Court. The apex court will hear the petition along with special leave petition (SLP) filed earlier by the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the union of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots.