Air India Hits Turbulence
Image Credit: BriYYZ

Air India Hits Turbulence


The Maharaja, the mascot of India’s national carrier Air India, is in turmoil as a bitter battle rages between the airline and some of its pilots.

The media has been full of reports of holidaymakers opting to pay cancellation charges and rebooking with other airlines as what some are describing as a “sick out” continued past the weeklong mark yesterday, as about 200 pilots stopped coming to work over fears for their career prospects.

Air India, which last month was promised a bailout package worth about $6 billion over a nine year period, has so far lost about Rs 150 crore ($28 million) during the eight day action, prompting the sacking of more than 70 pilots who had called in sick.

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On May 12, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh invited all former civil aviation ministers to hear their suggestions on resolving the crisis and he met with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who advised him to ensure that airfares don’t go up as a result of the strike. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued an order warning airlines against hiking fares following reports that carriers planned to increase airfares by about 20 percent. The DGCA reminded airlines that the costs of operating scheduled flights hadn’t undergone any major changes in the past two months, meaning a fare hike was unwarranted.

Ajit Singh has also signaled his willingness to talk with the striking pilots, but asked them to first apologize to passengers for the inconvenience if they wished to hold talks with the government. He reminded the striking pilots that if the strike action continued, they might soon not have an airline to work for. He also said the strike had raised a credibility issue for Air India, and appealed to the striking pilots to take into consideration the difficulties being faced by thousands of passengers.

However, the now-derecognized Indian Pilots Guild accused management of doing precious little to redress genuine grievances, with IPG General Secretary Capt. E. Kapadia arguing that the airline management hadn’t taken any initiative in dealing with core issues that prompted the pilots’ action. NDTV reports that the pilots are hoping the government “will meet three of their demands – take back the sacked pilots, re-recognize IPG and give them some sort of assurance that their earlier demands of a career progression would be taken care of.”

The Supreme Court has for its part urged Air India management to hold negotiations with the agitators to resolve the “internal” matter. Whether such calls will prompt the Air India management, the government and the striking pilots to set their egos aside in the interests of saving India’s national carrier, remains to be seen.

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