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Air India cancels 13 international flights as pilots continue agitation

 

National carrier Air India cancelled at least 13 international flights today as a section of its pilots continued their agitation for the seventh day, leaving thousands of passengers stranded at different airports around the country.

The flights cancelled today included AI3 Delhi-Hongkong-Seoul, AI931/AI990 Mumbai-Jeddah-Delhi, AI143/AI142 Delhi-Paris-Delhi, AI925/AI920 Delhi-Riyadh-Mumbai, AI131/AI130 Mumbai-London-Mumbai, AI187/AI188 Delhi-Toronto-Delhi, AI191/AI144 Mumbai-Newark-Mumbai , AI921/AI924 Mumbai-Riyadh-Delhi, AI102/AI101 Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi, AI188/AI18 Delhi-Amritsar-Delhi, AI126/AI127 Delhi-Hyderabad-Delhi, AI191/AI144 Mumbai-Ahmedabad-Mumbai and AI307 Tokyo-Delhi.
 
This was on top of scores of flights already cancelled by the loss-making airline in the past week, leading to a huge financial setback for the beleaguered company in the peak holiday season. The airline has also rescheduled and combined several flights to tide over the crisis.
 
The airline has also cancelled several of its international flights for the next few weeks in view of the mass sick leave by the pilots belonging to the erstwhile Air India and owing allegiance to the Indian Pilots Guild.
 
The Delhi High Court had last week termed the agitation as "illegal" and also issued orders restraining the pilots from continuing with the strike, reporting sick or staging demonstrations.
 
The court had observed that the agitation had caused “irreparable loss and injury to the name and reputation of the company apart from financial loss”. 
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Air India has so far sacked 71 of the agitating pilots, derecognised the IPG and sealed its offices.
 
The latest agitation by a section of the pilots has arisen from Air India's plans to induct the new generation state-of-the-art Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft into its fleet.
 
The IPG fled a writ petition in October 2011 before the High Court of Bombay inter alia praying that Air India should not be permitted to send any pilot of erstwhile Indian Airlines for B-787 training pending final decision on the issue of integration of seniority and career progression of the pilots of erstwhile Air India and that only erstwhile Air India pilots should be sent for training of B-787. On March 13, 2012 an interim order was passed in their favour by the Bombay High Court. 
 
The Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), the trade union of the pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines, challenged the order of the High Court before the Supreme Court of India and on April 23 this year, the Supreme Court, after hearing submissions made by both the sides stayed the operation of the interim order passed by the Bombay High Court. As a consequence, Air India went ahead and scheduled the training of erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots on the B787 aircraft.
 
"The IPG nonetheless continued to object to the decision to send erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots for B787 training, and even while Air India was in dialogue with the IPG a section of pilots of IPG decided to disrupt flights by proceeding on mass sick leave. The first such action by the pilots took place on on 4th May 2012. Despite this extreme and unwarranted step,  the management continued to maintain a dialogue with the IPG up to  the  7th May 2012 and continued to look at the issues raised by the IPG in right earnest," an earlier statement from Air India had said.
 
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Meanwhile, the Air India Executive Pilot’s Association (EPA) has requested the Chairman and Managing Director and the management of the airline to consider immediate initiation of the dialogue process with the IPG and withdrawal of the orders of termination issued to some of the IPG members.
 
"This will put an end to the ongoing stalemate and continued loss of revenue, reputation and image of the company in the eyes of the traveling public. This proactive step would be in line with the directions of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India," the association said.
 
"The EPA considers the issues raised by the IPG as legitimate, requiring urgent intervention and resolution. It is the most sincere attempt of the EPA to assist the company in this hour of crisis. The EPA therefore once again re-iterates that considering the gravity of the situation and the views expressed by the Hon’ble Apex court as well as the general public through sections of the electronic and other media, the management must not precipitate the matter further. In the absence of any such concrete and urgent steps from the management, the EPA will find it extremely difficult to provide any further co-operation to the company and will be forced to consider appropriate action," the EPA added.
 
The Society for the Welfare of Indian Pilots (SWIP) of the private sector Jet Airways has also called for immediate reinstatement of the sacked Air India pilots and good faith negotiations between the IPG and the Air India management.
 
"We are deeply pained by the recent events which are causing inconvenience to the traveling public and adversely affecting the image of the Indian civil aviation the world over," the SWIP said.
 
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According to it, the present state of affairs was the result of the failure of the merger of the two public sector airlines Air India and Indian Airlines.
 
"Unfortunately, this merger has failed to adequately address the  hopes, aspirations and even anxieties of the employees on both sides. On the contrary this merger has created massive deficit of trust between section of employees and management. In absence of any clarity by the management on even basic HR issues like seniority allocation and progression, the employees on the two sides have no option but to protect their interests. In failing to do their duty post merger the management has created a deep chasm and mistrust between IPG and ICPA," it said.
 
Meanwhile, Air India said it plans to monetize assets worth Rs 5000 crore over a 10-year period to support its financial restructuring plan (FRP) at an average of Rs 500 crore per year.
 
Air India is looking for top real estate consultants with wide experience in operating in India and abroad. The plan is to have the consultant by June 30, 2012, a press release from the airline said.
 
It said the Air India Board also approved the issue of non-convertible debentures for Rs 7400 crore guaranteed by the Government for part repayment of the working capital received from banks. 
 
The Board also endorsed the stand taken by the management in respect of terminations of the striking pilots and fully supported the view that indiscipline should not be tolerated in any form or manner. 
 
Meanwhile, all domestic flights of Air India are operating as per schedule. None of the domestic flights of the airline are affected due to the present agitation, the release added.
 
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