The skies in India haven't been this unfriendly for a while. Air India and Kingfisher flights are being cancelled because of strikes by pilots from both airlines.
The Delhi High Court yesterday said the Air India strike is illegal. 'If the pilots don't listen to the court, why would they listen to me?" asked Ajit Singh, civil Aviation Minister. He also said that Air India will not abandon its international operations. 250 pilots from Air India have been on strike for 72 hours now, forcing the cancellation of 48 flights. Nine more pilots were sacked today, taking the number of those sacked in the last 3 days to 45.
Passengers say they are not being informed in advance about their flights and discover their planes will not take off only after they reach the airport. Air India says it's leasing planes to compensate, and entitling affected passengers to hotel accommodation. (Air India strike: Top 10 developments)
Air India's pilots say that the management has failed to give them the promotions that are due. They also say that it's unacceptable for Indian Airlines pilots to be trained to fly the new Boeing Dreamliner, which is meant to join the national carrier's fleet later this month. In 2007, Air India was merged with Indian Airlines, the government-owned domestic carrier. Since then, pilots from the two airlines have clashed repeatedly over issues like parity in pay and seniority. The minister said they have been paid till February, and their remaining dues will be cleared soon. The pilots guild has now appealed to Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister that the sacked pilots be taken back and salaries be paid to them.
Mr Singh pointed out that it was Air India pilots who had pressed for the merger, because they wanted the more profitable domestic routes to compensate for the loss-making foreign sectors. Air India pilots say they have not been paid for months. The minister said their remaining dues will be cleared soon.
Meanwhile, Kingfisher pilots in Delhi have begun calling in sick to demand that they be paid; those from Bombay may join the strike tonight. 17 flights to or from Delhi have been cancelled.
The cash-strapped airline, owned by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has been struggling to stay afloat despite massive debt. In the last fiscal year, it declared losses of 1027 crores.
Kingfisher pilots are owed salaries since January, say sources. Reuters reported this week that Mr Mallya wrote on May 5 to employees, stating that January salaries would be paid starting Wednesday this week. "It is my personal endeavour to not only clear the January salaries, but also clear a significant part of the February salaries by the end of this month itself," Mr Mallya wrote, according to Reuters.