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Air India pilots call off stir

Pilots of the cash-strapped national carrier Air India late Saturday called off their stir after being assured by the airline management that all their dues will be paid by March-end.

"We have been reassured by the management that all our dues, including flying allowances, would be completely paid by March-end," an official of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), which constitutes pilots of the erstwhile Indian Airlines, told IANS.

"Our November salaries were paid today and one tranche of flying allowances will be given by Jan 20. In this new situation, we would like to appeal to all pilots to end their stir," he added.

The development comes after parleys were held between the pilots' union and the airline management at Air India's New Delhi-based headquarters - Airline House.

Earlier Saturday, about 40 Air India pilots, upset over non-payment of salaries, called in "sick", resulting in cancellation of several flights and leaving thousands of passengers stranded.

Delhi operations of the airline were the worst hit as 44 flights were cancelled, followed by eight from Mumbai and two each from Kolkata and Chennai, leaving some 8,000 passengers stranded.

The cancellations in Delhi began right at dawn and continued throughout the day, an Air India official told IANS. "Nearly 40 pilots have called in sick," he added.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh asked the pilots to join back and promised to discuss their problems with Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee Tuesday.

The talks will be aimed at improving the carrier's financial status, which has left pilots without salaries for two months. A major component of the pay, productivity linked incentive (PLI), has not been paid for over four months.

PLI constitutes 20-60 percent of the total pay package.

"We are looking into the problem. The pilots did not give any notice... We know the pilots have problems and their salaries have not been paid and are under financial stress," the minister said here.

Passengers stranded at airports were furious.

"My Kolkata-bound flight at 9 a.m. was cancelled. I reached the (Delhi) airport a little after 7 a.m. but I was not informed that my flight has been cancelled," complained Arun Gupta.

The airline said it was in talks with the pilot unions to sort out the issue.

"We are in talks with some pilot leaders in Delhi. We are taking all possible steps to help passengers like providing them flight information, getting them transferred to other airlines and providing them refunds," an Air India official said.

Air India Managing Director Rohit Nandan had said Friday that employees' dues for November would be paid by Saturday.

The carrier currently has a total debt of Rs.43,777 crore, including loans and dues it owes to vendors like oil firms and airport operators.

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