Air India deadlock: 13 international flights cancelled; angry passengers try to block road outside Mumbai airport

New Delhi/Mumbai:  It's the seventh day of the strike by the Air India pilots and the passengers' woes are mounting. There were reports that the government had sent feelers to pilots to discuss a solution to the impasse. The pilots did go to the Aviation Minister Ajit Singh's residence, but left soon after without being able to meet Mr Singh. As they left, they said they hoped to meet him later in the day.

The Indian Pilots Guild (IPG) issued a statement soon after saying, "As the IPG is apprehensive of the role played by a section of management in sharing correct and complete information with the Honourable Aviation Minister, the core committee members of IPG today submitted documents containing factual information regarding issues at hand. During this course, there was no meeting scheduled, neither did the committee hold any formal or informal talks with the Hon'ble Aviation Minister or any other representative of the Ministry."

Thirteen international flights have been cancelled overnight, including seven from Mumbai and four from Delhi. At least 22 flights were cancelled yesterday.

According to reports, 341 Air India pilots have reported 'sick' since the strike. Sources within the regulatory body Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said showcause notices were issued to 11 office bearers as per the management's demand. They have been given a week to respond to the notice.

Angry passengers tried to block the road outside the Mumbai airport last night and early this morning frustrated with the lack of information given to them by the Air India officials. CISF jawans were brought in to calm the situation.

"We are facing a lot of problem. We are waiting here for 3 to 4 hours but nobody is giving us any information," said one of the passengers.

"Nobody is telling us anything. We don't have anything to eat, we are sitting on the road," added another.

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh today said that the pilots will have to call off their strike for talks. "We have taken a very reasonable stand. It's not a strict stand. The passengers have been suffering because of the strike. The pilots will have to call off strike to have talks," he said.

The Air India management has sacked a total of 76 pilots over the last six days for not reporting to work. Executive pilots of the national carrier, who are also part of the management, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister yesterday saying they regret the inconvenience caused to passengers. However, they said, they support the "cause" of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), the union which is leading the strike.

"The Air India Executive Pilot's Association (EPA) humbly requests the management of Air India to consider immediate initiation of the dialogue process with the IPG and withdrawal of the orders of termination issued to some of our IPG colleagues. This will put an end to the ongoing stalemate. The EPA considers the issues raised by the IPG as legitimate. 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 pilots said in the letter.

The Jet Airways pilots too have backed the protesting Air India pilots. Their association, the Society for Welfare of Indian Pilots (SWIP), called for immediate reinstatement of those sacked and appealed to Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh to intervene and get the issue resolved at the earliest.

Last week, the Delhi High Court had declared the strike illegal, but that too did not deter the pilots.

The pilots on strike are unhappy with the management for allegedly failing 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.

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