Cracks appeared among the striking Air India pilots yesterday as some of them returned to work and the management said it expects more to follow. The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), however, denied this, saying their strike was very much on. “Three pilots who were reporting sick have reported back. We expect many more to join work and after that we can start our discussions with them,” said a senior Air India official.
The pilots’ protest seemed to be losing steam as the civil aviation ministry has made it clear that no talks will be held while the protest is on. “No one is ready to talk to them until they return to work. All options including that of reinstating the sacked pilots is also on the table, but nothing is certain as of now. If better sense prevails, then we could see the end of the strike soon,” said the official.
But the pilot union said the strike will continue and that pilots remain united over their “genuine and valid demands”. “The protest is on. I don’t know where this news is coming from,” said Jitendra Awadh, the IPG president. “The three pilots referred to by Air India are not from our union and they all are under probation,” said another union leader.
The pilots had earlier said they were open to talks. But the government has not till now accepted the offer, saying there will be no negotiations till the pilots return to work. The pilots have four demands — exclusive flying rights on Boeing 787, payment of arrears from 2007, travel on first class while not working, and the right to be promoted as commanders within six years.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Tuesday assured the pilots that all their grievances would be addressed and asked them to resume work, saying they have a responsibility toward the passengers and the country. Meanwhile, the airline has implemented its contingency plan to salvage its international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US, as the pilots’ strike continued for the ninth day.
Only one international flight was cancelled yesterday. “We are operating a bare minimum number of international operations by clubbing flights to destinations in Europe and the US,” said another Air India official. “Only the Delhi-Hong Kong-Seoul flight was cancelled. We have also brought in Airbus family of aircraft like A320, A321 and A330 for international routes,” he added.
The airline is only operating eight of its 17 Boeing 777 aircraft which are operated by the striking pilots belonging to IPG. Trouble started on May 8 when pilot-members of IPG took mass sick leave protesting the move to provide Boeing-787 Dreamliner training to pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines.