Air India grounded again

The national carrier in trouble again, as 40 pilots refuse to fly due to non-payment of allowance; Mumbai sector unaffected

As many as 18 Air India flights from Delhi and Mumbai were cancelled on Saturday, as 40 pilots from New Delhi refused to fly the airplanes, Air India officials said. Of them 22 reported sick, while the rest stated that they were under stress due to financial problems.

The pilots are protesting against the non-payment of their salaries and allowances.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said, "They have not sent a notice, but some have reported sick. Some disruption is there in Delhi, but nothing has happened anywhere else. (The pilots') allowances have not been paid for some months. We understand their problem, but Air India's finances are in bad shape and their accounts were frozen yesterday."

Singh said he would meet the Finance Minister to discuss the issue this week. "By the end of the week, maybe we will be able to pay... I won't say all, but most of it should be paid," he said.

Officials claimed that the airline clubbed some flights so that passengers are not inconvenienced.

The agitating pilots claim that they are facing a serious financial crunch, as they have not been paid their flying allowances, which constitute about 80 per cent of their total salary, since last August.

Meanwhile, even though seven Air India flights -- arrivals and departures from Mumbai -- were cancelled, this did not affect services in the city. When one of the correspondents of this article visited the Air India departure counter at the domestic airport in Mumbai on Saturday afternoon, he was informed that around seven flights departing from and arriving in Mumbai had been cancelled. However, when asked about the reason behind these cancellations, the officials at the counter refused to comment.

However, passengers who had booked tickets for their respective destinations were seen claiming a refund from the Air India counter.

A source from the Indian Commercial Pilot Association (ICPA) said, "Some pilots have stopped flying since their flying allowances, which are about 80 per cent of the total salary have not been paid since August 2011. We are trying to control the situation and requesting pilots to fly, but ICPA feels we should have safe and unstressed pilots in the cockpit. ICPA has faith in management, but Air India employees are disappointed with the government dragging its feet over the revival of the carrier."
Sources claim that pilots held meetings in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai on Friday to work on the mode of their agitation.

An Air India spokesperson said, "Only three flights coming from Delhi and going to other destinations via Mumbai were cancelled."

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