Kingfisher pilots go on strike; Air India cancels long haul international flights


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NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: The Kingfisher Airlines is in trouble again. A majority of its pilots, largely those based in Delhi, have refused to operate flights. Pilots from Mumbai are expected to join the agitation from evening. But the effect on the airline’s threadbare domestic flight schedule will not be severe as the airline has roped in its management pilots for duty. However, if the agitation goes on for a few days, the airline will find it hard to find pilots for its flights as pilots cannot be rostered to do extra-duty in violation of the aviation regulator’s pilot rest rules.
 
"From the Mumbai airport only a flight, the morning one to Chennai, was cancelled and it was for operational reasons," said a Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd spokesperson. Kingfisher is now the smallest airline in Indian in terms of market share and number of flights operated/day.
 
Said an airline source: "The pilots are calling in sick, saying that the delay in salary payments has been a cause of stress." In the last few days, the resentment among pilots grew as the management again went back on its promise to pay their pending salary. "The management has been blatantly lying to us. They told us that they have deposited the money for our salaries in the bank," said a pilot. "However when we checked with the banks, they revealed that not a cent has been deposited towards our salary payments," he added. The pilots had earlier planned to agitate from Monday onwards. But the airline chairman Vijay Mallya wrote a letter saying that the salary for the month of January will be paid on May 9. With the deadline gone and no payment done, the agitation began from midnight.
 
"It seems the only reason we were given the May 9 deadline was to stop us from protesting outside the Wankhede stadium on Wednesday. It was the venue for an IPL match and Mallya’s team was playing," a source said. The airline spokesperson was not available for comment.
 
Air India cancels long haul international flights
 
With none of the erstwhile Air India’s almost 300 striking pilots reporting to work by the Thursday morning deadline, the airline has decided to stop booking for all long-haul international flights to North America, Europe and UK till May 15. The management is now moving contempt proceedings against the members of Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) who continued to stay away from work despite a clear Delhi High Court verdict calling it illegal on Wednesday.
 
It is also examining if the flying licences of the pilots can be suspended - either temporarily or permanently -- by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for "highhanded behaviour and acting against public interest".
 
A senior AI official said: "We are moving civil contempt against members of the now derecognized IPG in the high court. We are also filing criminal contempt against the striking pilots in the Supreme Court for trying to obstruct implementation of an earlier SC order under which pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines were to be also sent for training on the Boeing 787 Dreamliner."
 
The IPG had made it clear on Wednesday night that the pilots would not return to work unless the management was willing to discuss their grievances. However, the aviation ministry has made it clear that they would first need to return to work before any dialogue could begin. "Dialogue and disruption can’t happen together. Pilots must follow the court order," minister Ajit Singh said.
 
Meanwhile, with the pilots not relenting, the airline has decided to stop booking for long haul flights to North America, Europe and UK till May 15. "We are going to sack more pilots on Thursday (after 26 were fired on Wednesday and 10 on Tuesday). We are drawing up a contingency plan and also seeing if we can get a wide body aircraft on wet lease (with operating crew) to operate some flights," said sources.
 
AI-international has 800 pilots on its rolls and of them about 450 to 500 are members of IPG. About 300-350 IPG members have been reporting sick since Monday night. "We may seemingly have adequate pilots to operate all flights for some time. But that would mean exhausting their flight time duty limitations in a week or 10 days. So operating the full schedule is not possible," said an official.
 
The number of flight cancellations has gone up significantly on Thursday and passenger woes are mounting. Moreover, anger is building up in other employees of AI against the striking pilots as they feel this agitation might affect their chances of getting the Rs 30,000 crore bailout required desperately for the airlines’ survival.

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