AI stir: 10 pilots sacked, union de-recognised -  Government threatens to shut Air India international flights


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MUMBAI: Four Air India international flights were cancelled on Tuesday after about 100 pilots called in sick, evoking a strong response from the airline management which asked them to return to work by 6 PM this evening or face action.
 
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh termed the strike as "illegal" and said the management of the national carrier would take appropriate action against those involved in the stir.
 
"The pilots have been told to return to work by today evening. And if they don’t, the management will take stern action against them," Air India spokesperson said.
A section of Air India pilots owing allegiance to Indian Pilots Guild are agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training. Four AI international flights were cancelled from Delhi and Mumbai after about 100 pilots refused to join work.
 
It is understood that the management has also decided to send doctors’ team to the pilots’ houses, who are reporting sick, to protest against the rescheduling of Boeing 878 Dreamliner training.
 
"We have decided to send doctors’ team at the residence of the pilots, who are reporting sick. It is our primary duty to enquire about their health," airline sources said.
In a crackdown, Air India on Tuesday sacked ten agitating pilots, de-recognised their union and sealed its offices as around 160 of them failed to join duty, leading to cancellation of five international flights since midnight.
 
With Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh terming their agitation ‘illegal’, airline sources said more severe action was to follow if the pilots did not get back to work by 1800 hours on Tuesday.
 
Flights on Delhi-Toronto, Delhi-Chicago, Mumbai-Newark and Mumbai-Hongkong via Delhi sectors were cancelled ‘due to unavailability of pilots,’ an Air India spokesperson said.
 
With about 160 pilots not having joined duty, the services of at least ten pilots, including office bearers of the Indian Pilots Guild (IPG), which is leading the agitation, were terminated, the sources said. While the IPG has been de-recognised, the sources said its offices in Mumbai and Delhi were sealed.
A section of Air India pilots owing allegiance IPG are agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training and matters relating to their career progression.
 
The Civil Aviation Minister termed the strike as ‘illegal’ and said the management of the national carrier would take appropriate action against those involved in the stir.
 
"They are reporting sick. They have not given any notice for any strike. So whatever the Air India management rules and regulations, action will be taken accordingly," Singh told reporters.
 
"The pilots have been told to return to work by today evening. And if they don’t, the management will take stern action against them," the Air India spokesperson said.
 
The airline management has also started sending doctors to the houses of pilots who were reporting sick, the sources said.

 
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Meanwhile, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-backed pilots’ body has said that it is open to negotiations with the management.
 
"We are open to negotiations at any given time," Indian Pilots Guild president and NCP leader Jitendra Awhad said.
 
The civil aviation minister said the pilots went on sick leave in the midst of their talks with the management of Air India which has led to cancellation of flights.
 
"They are reporting sick. They have not given any notice for any strike. So whatever the Air India management rules and regulations, action will be taken accordingly," Singh told reporters.
 
Noting that Air India is currently undergoing a turbulent period and crores of public money is being infused to run the carrier, Singh said every section has grievances and that there are ways to find a solution.
 
"Strike is illegal. There is a way to launch a strike. Every section has grievances and problems. But there are ways," he said.

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Four Air India international flights were cancelled from Delhi and Mumbai on Tuesday after about 100 pilots refused to join work. The airlines domestic operations, however, were unaffected.

“Four flights — Delhi-Toronto, Delhi-Chicago, Mumbai-Newark and Mumbai-Hongkong via Delhi have been cancelled due to unavailability of pilots,” an Air India spokesperson said here. About 100 pilots have so far not reported for duty, the spokesperson said.

A section of Air India pilots owing allegiance to Indian Pilots Guild are agitating over the rescheduling of Boeing 787 Dreamliner training. A section of Air India pilots had on Monday threatened to strike work following the failure of talks with the Air India management.

“The management (Air India) has completely backtracked from what had been agreed upon in the last 2-3 days. Therefore, we are left with no option but to intensify our agitation,” Guild sources said.

Disappointed over the management’s attitude, some 100 odd pilots have already join the agitation and the Guild expects the number to swell to 250-300 by tomorrow, they had said, indicating the flights operations could be hit severely in the coming days.

Earlier, the management held meeting with the pilots in New Delhi in its bid to defuse the crisis, arising out of the rescheduling of the Dreamliners training programme. On Saturday, a section of pilots reported sick, apparently to protest the move, resulting in cancellation of one international flight and delaying another two.

It is understood that during their meeting yesterday, the airline management told the pilots that they had no reason to strike work at a time when the government had announced a bailout package for the national carriers.

The management is also said to have told the pilots to wait for a solution till the Justice D M Dharamadhikari Committee report is implemented by the government.

NEW DELHI: Erstwhile Air India pilots are threatening to strike work but the government may not be ready to play ball this time. The pilots threatened to go on strike from Monday night, minutes after their talks with the airline management and aviation ministry failed on the issue of training for the Boeing-787 Dreamliner.

The ministry, toughening its stand, has warned that it will shut international flights of the airline if the strike snowballs and will take strict action against the agitating pilots.

Sources in the 500-strong AI pilots’ union, Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), said about 100 pilots had reported sick by 9pm on Monday and the number may swell to 250 by Tuesday. Flights had already started getting affected.
This stir could cripple AI’s international operations just ahead of the peak summer holiday season that begins this weekend.

AI cancelled Monday night-Tuesday morning’s Mumbai-Newark, Delhi-Toronto and Delhi-Chicago flights. Among longhauls, only Delhi-New York is expected to operate early on Tuesday morning.

"Instead of delaying flights by 2-2 hours which is very irksome, we decided to cancel flights as 45 erstwhile AI pilots already reported sick by 11pm on Monday," said sources.

Dreamliner training put on hold

The latest strike threat comes from the heartburn caused among the erstwhile AI pilots after the Supreme Court backed the management’s decision of sending pilots from the erstwhile Indian Airlines for training on the Dreamliner. IPG had been laying exclusive claim to this aircraft, saying the same was ordered by erstwhile AI - a claim rejected by the apex court.

The aviation ministry, which just weeks ago secured a mammoth Rs 42,000 crore bailout for debt-ridden AI, is fuming at this "completely unjustified" strike. "Following the SC order, erstwhile AI pilots have no right to agitate on the issue of erstwhile IA pilots being sent for training on the Dreamliner in equal numbers. About 22 pilots of AI (international) reported sick minutes after the meeting ended. We will not subject passengers to uncertainty this time and close the international operations of AI. This is not how anyone should behave after tonnes of taxpayers’ money is being used to save the airline," a senior official said.

An IPG member said they were looking to secure their future as the B-787 was ordered for their career progression. "If half of those planes go to IA pilots, then our career progression gets stuck. We had prepared a draft that secured our interests but neither the management nor the ministry accepted it," the source said.

Sources said the ’enmity’ between AI and IA pilots has reached such levels that the AI flights supposed to fly to Singapore last week with IA pilots (who were going there for training on the Dreamliner) was cancelled to ensure that the latter don’t reach there!

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