Sunday, May 1, 2011

Indian pilots' strike enters fourth day

FLAGSHIP carrier Air India was forced to cancel most of its domestic flights by a pilots' strike over pay that entered its fourth day.

The financially ailing state-run carrier, which says it has lost $6 million in revenues so far due to the strike, said it was operating just 39 domestic flights out of its regular 320, according to the Press Trust of India.

The airline is "operating on only trunk routes" to major Indian cities, an Air India spokesman said.

"We do not have any pilots," he added.

The airline, which at the start of the strike had been able to operate most flights, has also scaled back international operations.

More than 800 pilots were on strike, defying management warnings of dismissal, while non-unionised pilots, asked by management to fill in for the strikers, have begun calling in sick in support of their colleagues.

The airline, which has condemned the strike as "illegal, unfortunate and most irresponsible," has already sacked nine pilots and suspended six others.

The Delhi High Court has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the pilots, citing their "utter defiance" of its orders to end their strike.

If found guilty, the pilots could be sentenced to six months in jail.

"We're more than willing to go to jail," Rishabh Kapur, General Secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), said.

In 2007, the government merged Air India with state-run domestic carrier Indian Airlines in a bid to create a more cost-efficient national carrier.

The pilots on strike were all originally hired by Indian Airlines and say that four years after the merger, they are still paid significantly less than the pilots from Air India.

They are demanding equal wages, but the airline has said no strike is legally permitted as a case on wage parity and other issues is pending before a tribunal.

"I hope sense will prevail upon these people," said civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi.

Private airlines have cashed in on the strike by hiking their fares on routes served by Air India.


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