More flights disrupted as neither side blinks

Written by fe Bureau | New Delhi | Updated: Sep 30 2009, 05:54am hrs
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel has issued a virtual ultimatum to the striking Air India pilots, as more pilots have stayed home on Tuesday. The minister said the pilots must return to work by Tuesday mid-night, failing which the airline management will be free to take action against them.

As many as 180 pilots have reported sick in the past four days, leading to cancellations of around 230 flights and massive dislocation of schedules for the airline, which has a combined accumulated loss of Rs 7,000 crore.

On Tuesday, Air India cancelled 110 flights. It also stopped flight bookings till further notice, and dismissed media reports about a possible lock-out as false and baseless. Patel, who termed the strike is a matter of concern, asked the pilots to report to work. I hope the entire airline (AI) will come back to full operation from tomorrow, failing which the management will be free to take any decision that it feels is necessary, he said.

Patel made the comments after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took stock of the situation during the day. Singh was briefed by the civil aviation secretary M Madhavan Nambiar and Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav. Cabinet secretary KM Chandrashekhar and principal secretary to the Prime Minister TKA Nair were also present then.

The strike was triggered by the airlines move to cut productivity linked incentives to its executive pilots by up to 50%. The incentive bonus comprises about 90% of the monthly pay, of Rs 6 lakh-plus, of the executive pilots, who form the top layer of the flight crew.

The striking executive pilots have the moral support of other pilot associations. The Indian Commercial Pilots Association and the Indian Pilots Guild feel the management should take corrective measures on the PLI cut.

In a bid to pacify the pilots, the airline had on Sunday put on hold the decision to cut the PLI cut. Patel said after the decision there was no justification for the pilots to continue with the strike. Instead of a formal strike, the pilots have been reporting sick from Saturday.

On the related issue of the pilots not getting arrears for the last three months, Jadhav told reporters after his meeting with the PM that full salaries have been paid to the pilots for July and August. Only the PLI for August has not been paid, which will be given out in a few days, he said.