Delhi/Mumbai: Some 600 Air India pilots continued their
stir for the third day Friday, defying court orders and a 5 p.m.
management deadline to get back to work. Around 100 flights were
grounded as stranded passengers cried foul over the steep fares
being charged by other carriers.
"As far as we know, the strike is still on. None of the striking
pilots reported for duty despite our deadline and the contempt of
court proceedings against them. We are working out the future
course of action," an Air India spokesperson said.
The pilots are demanding pay parity, better working conditions and
reinstatement of sacked pilots.
The state-run carrier, which has the full backing of the
government, has also suspended bookings on domestic and regional
international destinations till Sunday. "Fresh bookings will only
start May 4," the spokesperson said.
What irked the stranded passengers, numbering thousands across the
country, even more was the steep 50-75 percent hike in fares
charged by private airlines.
In the Delhi-Mumbai sector, for example, some passengers said the
base fare that normally goes up to Rs.2,400-Rs.3,000 for
last-minute bookings, had been jacked up to as much as Rs.7,500 by
some carriers, resulting in a total one-way cost of Rs.11,500,
including various levies.
Meanwhile, Air India has suffered a revenue loss pegged at Rs.27
crore since Tuesday midnight when the strike started.
Flight disruptions were mostly at the Delhi and Mumbai airports.
The airline cancelled 52 flights in the national capital and 33 in
the financial capital.
"We are only operating 15 flights from Delhi, whereas on an
average we have 67 flights from Delhi," a senior operations
official with Air India told IANS.
He said the airline had since Thursday adopted a reduced
operations plan, where fewer flights by widebodied aircraft would
"Currently, our operations are going on smoothly. As we have
stopped ticket bookings, passenger loads will also come down and
we will be able to tide over this period," the official said.
On Thursday, Air India curtailed its regular operations by 20
percent - with 60 flights - from its normal daily schedule of 320.
The Delhi High Court on its part initiated contempt of court
proceedings against members of the Indian Commercial Pilots
Association (ICPA), the union behind the strike and whose members
were on the payroll of the erstwhile Indian Airlines.
The proceedings, launched on the court's own initiative, came
after the agitating pilots refused to return to work despite the
court earlier restraining them from going on strike or resorting
Justice Gita Mittal initiated sou motto criminal contempt of court
proceedings against the union.
"It is clearly evident that the conduct of the pilots is brazen,
willful and smacks of sheer arrogance," observed Justice Mittal,
who also referred the matter to Chief Justice Dipak Misra, who
would place the case before the appropriate bench for proper
The case is likely to come up for hearing Monday.
Air India set a Friday 5 p.m. deadline for its striking pilots to
return to work or provide a valid reason for leave without which
they would face sacking.
ICPA pilots said they were ready to return to work only if written
assurances are given that their demands will be met.
"We are ready to go back to work. No one wants to trouble the
passengers, but we want written assurances from the government
that our demands are met and our sacked pilots re-instated back
immediately," said A.S. Bhinder, central president, ICPA.
Members of the ICPA, who were on the rolls of the erstwhile Indian
Airlines before it merged with Air India, struck work, demanding
parity in pay with their counterparts in Air India and other
issues related to work conditions.
But the government has so far decided to fully back the airline
"We cannot hold any talks with pilots till they return to their
duties," said Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi, who had
briefed the federal cabinet Thursday.